Activities/tasks/distractions for my grandmother?
November 17, 2009 2:37 PM   Subscribe

I'd like ideas for activities/tasks/distractions for my demented grandmother.

My grandmother is in her late 80's and presently lives with other members of my immediate family. She has some form of slowly progressive dementia. Symptoms vary widely from day to day; she's often lucid and cheerful and at other times becomes very delusional, confused, paranoid, and hostile. She responds very well to having tasks and activities with definite points of completion, particularly ones that give her a sense of autonomy and agency. (I've spent quite a bit of time recently just talking to her, and she frequently talks about getting her driver's license, moving back to a city she used to live in, and other impossibilities which suggest to me that she's pretty frustrated and angry about the loss of her independence).

She likes to be outside (taking walks, raking leaves, etc), has enjoyed sorting buttons and screws and other household olio-bins, loves animals...please give me more ideas for things to do that are engaging at a basic level without being too childish.

(A few details: she is still pretty spry physically, still witty, still has decent albeit unpredictable short-term memory, is pretty much continuously worried about family members and/or an imaginary legion of nearby peepers/intruders/miscreants...if it's not too chat-filtery general advice on making my grandmother's life and that of her caretakers easier would be appreciated).
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I SPY games and jigsaw puzzles?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:18 PM on November 17, 2009

Jigsaw puzzles? You can scale the difficulty in accordance with her cognitive ability and there is definitely a completion point. There's also knitting- my Grandma has a hard time seeing/reading directions, but she made us all scarves last winter.
posted by dogmom at 3:22 PM on November 17, 2009

oh- shoulda previewed!
posted by dogmom at 3:23 PM on November 17, 2009

Cross stitch? With pre-printed patterns so there's no counting or keeping track of anything.
posted by tristeza at 3:26 PM on November 17, 2009

A friend's parents have really liked playing Brain Age (and similar) on a Nintendo DS. Not really much for the independence side of things, but taskwise it's a cool option.
posted by rhizome at 3:29 PM on November 17, 2009

If you have a box of unorganized family photos, sorting through them and making an album could be a good activity - it's not childish, it can be absorbing, it has a completion point, it'll help keep her memory oiled, it'll be nice for her to have once it's finished.

If her eyes are still good, birdwatching is very fun, more so if you're outside the city. You could get her some binoculars (or a spotting scope if you've got the money), and a bird guide. If you can put up a bird feeder to bring the birds to you, even better.

Other random ideas: Crossword puzzles, pressing flowers, 2nding knitting, get her an aquarium to take care of...
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:40 PM on November 17, 2009

I'm the caregiver for my grandmother, who is in much the same shape as yours, only 103 and her dementia is a little more advanced. In my limited experience, I've found the single best thing you can do for a person in this condition is offer them choices whenever possible rather than telling them what they need to do. It starts when I wake her up in the morning. I'll have a housecoat in each hand and hold them up for her to see and ask which one she thinks is best for this morning. Then, I'll walk her to the table and ask her if she wants her coffee black or with sugar (she ALWAYS wants her coffee black), then offer 2 choices for breakfast, etc.

Even though she makes the same choices day in and day out, allowing her to choose makes her feel like she has some control over her life and that has to be a great feeling for a person dealing with losing their memories and sense of self.

She spent her entire life as a homemaker and it's those tasks that she loves to do. When I was young, Grandma would fold her laundry and do the ironing in the living room so she could watch her soap operas as she worked. She can no longer follow any TV shows with a plot, so we have a dozen of her favorite Sunrise Earth episodes to play on TV while she folds clothes (her ironing days are long past). I'll sometimes grab a dozen or so towels out of the linen closet and throw them in the dryer for a few minutes when she seems bored or cranky. There have been days when Grandma has folded the same towels 3 or 4 times in one day. :)

Does your grandma like to go for car rides? That is my grandma's favorite activity and it really seems to help her focus. I try to take her cruising at least 4 times a week, with each ride lasting 3-4 hours. Once again, I give her a choice of if she wants ot stay home or go for a ride, then give her a few choices of destination like Big Bear Lake in the mountains, Palm Springs or Joshua Tree National Park.

Grandma is dozing in her chair right now, after spending an hour or 2 looking at this week's grocery ads and trying to build a shopping list,. Her list is short. She got sidetracked after cornmeal and buttermilk but it was a good effort on her part. I do ask her to help me plan the weeks menu and shopping list and when possible, take her shopping with me.

In past years, I'd help her list all the family members we needed to buy Christmas gifts for and let her keep the list so she could do her best to make gift suggestions next to each name. That's beyond her capabilities now, but we are working on our Christmas card list and I'll do the writing on each card as she sits next ot me and helps me decide what to say to each.

Are chickens a possibility for your grandmother? Next to her faithful Cocker Spaniel, my grandma-s biggest pride and joy are her chickens. She also enjoyed bottle feeding our Nigerian Dwarf goats when they were babies.

Best of luck to you and your grandma. She has a tough row to hoe ahead of her, but having loving family members like you will make her life much easier.
posted by buggzzee23 at 3:46 PM on November 17, 2009 [21 favorites]

My elderly aunt and her family had a lot of fun with armchair rockhounding. You mentioned sorting through things and that brought it to mind.

Here is one site that will sell you a bag o'rocks to sort through. Find a few gemstones and then send them in to be polished and cut.
Spruce Pine Gemstone Mine

Warning: I have no idea how easy it is to spot gems in a bucket of rocks.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:40 PM on November 17, 2009

I forgot these: Old people are like puppies in some ways so it's best to be prepared for the occasional accident and these pads have been a huge help to me. This is the best price I've found (roughly 30 bucks for 150 pads).

Also, a good baby monitor with a portable handset receiver is a must-have. A high percentage of dementia patients attempt to wander off, so be sure to secure the property with gates if possible. Grandma is no longer able to walk more than a few feet without assistance, but I still have deadbolted security screen doors and 2 gates with padlocks the front and rear yards, along with an electric eye mounted on her bedroom door that triggers an alarm in my bedroom should she walk through it. There were a few times when she woke in the middle of the night and got up to look for "that boy".

If you want to do a huge favor for the fulltime caregivers, take care of your grandmother for a day or even a few hours and give them some time off. You have no idea how much that will be appreciated.

My ex-wife clued me in on this:
No matter how old and wrinkly a woman gets, there's still a girl inside.

My grandma loves girly stuff like regular visits to the beauty shop and manicures, along with new dresses. Yours might also like something like that and it's a great way to give the caregiver a rest.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:50 PM on November 17, 2009

When she's aggressive... perhaps a baby doll she can comfort and undress/dress? Babies are the best therapy for older people... but not always easy to source. Some dementia patients don't seem to notice that they're only dolls. Best of luck.
posted by taff at 7:59 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

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