Play isn’t just for children. In fact, older adults living with dementia can use toys to manage behavior challenges, according to senior care professionals.
Veney cared for her mother, Doris, who lived with dementia for 16 years. She now teaches other caregivers innovative techniques they can use to help their loved ones with cognitive impairments.
One technique Veney suggested during the “Using Play Activities to Build Caregiving Connections” webinar was simple cards. She said caregivers should encourage older adults to play brain games with special cards known as “photo cards” while they sit in waiting rooms or have downtime. Available for purchase online, photo cards explore subjects like nature, shapes, patterns and more, and they facilitate a variety of memory activities that cater to older adults with different capabilities and needs.
“Everybody is so different that [they] might connect to something [you] never even thought of,” Veney said.
Another play technique she suggested is a touch-and-feel activity using pieces of fabric. Caregivers can use small pieces of scrap fabric, pompoms, sequins and other textural materials to create a toy that helps older adults with dementia stay focused.
Veney said this type of fabric toy could encourage older adults to practice skills like folding and counting. Yet, she cautioned that older adults may not always respond well to activities like this on a regular basis.
“What works today may not work tomorrow,” she said.
People with dementia need to have a wide variety of play activities to choose from, she explained, and even if a senior living with dementia shows interest in a particular play activity one day, that could change.
Other activities Veney said caregivers could offer older adults are Legos or dot paint. She suggested caregivers start by offering a classic mixed box of Legos to see which ones their loved one takes interest in and what they might build without directions.
“You’re thinking with your hands,” she said. “It’s all based on metaphors.”
Similarly, she said older adults can think with their hands using dot paint sticks to try making designs or spelling their names. Or they could use old file containers and envelopes to pretend to sort mail.
Lakelyn Eichenberger, PhD, a gerontologist and caregiving advocate who spoke during the webinar, said activities like this help older adults feel productive.
“It makes them feel like they’re a part of something,” she said.
Caregivers and older adults who want to attend future webinars can visit the Help For Alzheimer’s Families website to register.