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10 Ways to Connect with Dementia Patients

How do you connect and have fun with your aging parent who has dementia? We have ten ideas for you.

When a parent with dementia naturally withdrawals from relationships, finding small ways to connect can not only reduce the effects of severe cognitive impairment, it can also lead to a higher quality of life. 

Social gerontologist and consultant Lydia Manning, Ph.D., says, “We are human and all deserve to enjoy life and have fun no matter what our cognitive capabilities may or may not be. This is an issue of respect, dignity and support — laughter is a universal language.”

1. Play a game. Whether it be checkers, tic-tac-toe, bingo or cards, taking time to play even just one game can help lighten the mood, bring on some laughs and show your parent you value them.

2. Teach tech. Want to help connect your parent with family and friends that are far away? Teach them how to use technology. Email, video chatting, texting and social networking can add tiny doses of joy throughout the day. So why not show them how to power up and log on?

3. Pamper each other.  Planning with people who have dementia and giving them a voice and choice in the matter (at every extent possible) is important,” says Manning. “It fosters autonomy and preserves personhood for the person living with dementia and allows for the planner and person with dementia to engage in a process of exchange, social caring, trusting and reciprocity — all important in relationship building.”

Maybe it’s warming up a heating pad for each other or soaking your feet in a hot tub, or it could be steeping a cup of tea or cutting a sandwich just the way they like it. Finding little ways to show your love for each other by acting from the heart can bring the best out in us all.

4. Attend an event. Sporting events, plays, movies, concerts, you name it. Get out there and enjoy what life has to offer! Your aging parent may not only enjoy the entertainment but the company as well.

5. Start a garden. If the weather abides, why not plant a garden? Start small with herbs like basil, oregano and thyme and move up from there. You’ll love snipping fresh leaves to enhance meals. Too late in the year to plant outside, grow in indoors herb garden that you can tend together all year long.

6. Create a family tree. Go the analog route by putting pen to paper or start tracing your history online through a site like Ancestry.com. Either way, following your family’s heritage is a great way to pass the time and wonderful way to learn more about your roots.

7. Cook or bake in the kitchen.  Whether it’s a family recipe that’s been passed down through the years or something you’ve found in a pinch online, spending time together in the kitchen is a great way to connect. 

8. Play music or sing songs. Manning believes music and the arts are great ways to foster connections and tap into body memory and emotion. Turn on the tunes or belt out your favorite song, music is the ultimate connector.

9. Work on a puzzle. It’s not about completing the puzzle; it’s about the process. Sort through the pieces, categorize them in piles of color or shape and see how far you get.

10. Watch family videos. Make some popcorn, sit back and relax on the couch and watch some old family videos. 

If your loved one seems resistant or becomes agitated, take a break. Some activities may work better at certain times of the day, depending on the concentration level required. (If you notice your parent gets agitated in the evenings, read about Sundowner’s syndrome here to determine if there’s a connection.) There’s no need to push anything. The idea behind all of these activities is to create a sense of accomplishment and have a little fun while doing it.