Weekly column

Activities help stimulate the mind and memory and keep older adults engaged and interested in life. But finding no-fail activities for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia and vision impairment can take a little extra creativity.

The goal is to help your older adult feel happily occupied and successful at an activity they enjoy. That’s why it’s important to find activities that work well for their current cognitive ability. Meaningful activities help reduce anxiety, agitation and other challenging behaviors. They can also improve sleep by keeping the older adult more active and awake during the day.

Here are some activity ideas for vision-impaired seniors who also have dementia. Included are plenty of suggestions to help you find a variety of fun things your older adult will enjoy. Keep in mind, it might take some trial and error to find activities that your older adult will like. Use their previous preferences and interests as a guideline, but don’t be afraid to try things they weren’t interested in before – dementia can significantly change preferences.

1. Music: Play their favorite songs or albums, especially music from their youth. Tune the radio to a station that plays the type of music they like. Encourage them to sing along to songs they know. Use their favorite songs as a fun way to help them reminisce over fond memories. Play or experiment with a simple musical instrument like a harmonica or musical shaker.

2. Reading aloud, audiobooks and radio shows: Hearing the newspaper, books, magazines or even old letters read aloud is an enjoyable pastime for many older adults. Find things that capture their interest but aren’t too complex to follow.Reading aloud is a great way for visitors to interact with someone with dementia, especially children. Audiobooks allow your older adult to listen to almost any book they like. Borrow them from the local library, buy them from a retailer, use the free National Library Service home delivery or find them online for free. Sports fans may enjoy listening to sports games on the radio. Some older adults may enjoy listening to radio talk shows, spiritual broadcasts, science talks and other such programs – many radio stations even make these programs available online for free.

3. Movement and exercise: Play their favorite music, and encourage them to dance with you, sway in their seat or tap hands and feet along with the beat. Guide them through chair yoga or chair exercises to boost mood, circulation and overall health.

4. Nature: Use a wheelchair for a walk outside to feel the sun and fresh air (if it ever warms up enough to safely do so). Take them for a ride in the car and describe the passing scenery. Involve them in an indoor windowsill garden to the best of their ability – pressing dirt in a pot, measuring plant growth by feel, smelling herbs, or eating the harvest (tomatoes, salad greens, herbs, etc.).

5. Videos and TV programs: Play musicals, operas, concerts or performances with music. Play nature videos or shows on TV – they usually describe the animals and narrate the action so it’s still an enjoyable experience even without the visuals.

6. Household chores: Helping with household chores is a great way for someone with dementia and low vision to feel involved and important in the household. Prepare fruit by using a dull safety knife to cut soft fruits, or use fingers to break them into chunks or sections (like bananas, oranges, etc.). Prepare veggies: snap beans, shell peas or beans; pull off stems, etc. Help with ingredients – asking someone with low vision to dump ingredients into a large pot or bowl is a way for them to contribute to cooking or baking a dish. Fold laundry – especially smaller, more manageable items like hand towels or socks. Sort silverware like butter knives, forks, and spoons into their containers.

7. Animal therapy: Holding or petting a well-behaved pet is a wonderful and calming activity.

8. Arts, crafts, and tactile activities: Sculpture lets older adults express themselves creatively without needing to use their vision. They can use modeling clay or sculpting sand. Older adults with some vision might like making collages from magazine pictures or covering a plain box by gluing cut-out images or colored paper. Some people with a little vision may also enjoy expressive painting (think broad strokes and abstract shapes) – use vivid colors against a contrasting background to make it easier to see. Many people enjoy smoothing out crumpled paper or tissue paper. Sorting is a wonderful activity that doesn’t require vision. Just make the shapes different enough to be easy to distinguish, like a bag of mixed pasta shapes, coins, etc. Fidget toys and other sensory toys are also satisfying and engaging activities.

9. Adaptive (modified) games: For seniors with some vision, large print playing cards are a great way to enjoy simple games like go fish, blackjack (21), war or just sorting cards by color or suit. They can also play a matching shapes game with a larger template for low vision. Try matching games with oversized cards showing various occupations. Giant-size dominoes can be used to play a variety of games: regular dominoes or matching type games your older adult invents. Special dominoes with raised dots could be used by people with little-to-no vision and varying levels of vision.

Experiment with these ideas to find what suits your older adult best. Use the suggestions as a starting point and customize as needed for their ability level and interests. Remember that interests can change rapidly, so don’t be afraid to try something again in the future to see if there might be a different reaction. For more information on this and other topics of interest to seniors, please contact the Butler County Department on Aging at 775-0500.