Ask The Expert – Dementia
My dad has been diagnosed with dementia for the past 4 years. He has always had a strong work ethic and spent most of his adult life as a plumber. He is no longer able to work and often shadows my mom throughout the day. I know he is restless, and my mom is at her wit’s end some days. I am looking for some specific activities he might enjoy that would keep him occupied and give my mom a break. Any ideas would be appreciated.
Shadowing can be a common behavior of a person living with dementia. This is when the person with dementia will follow the primary caregiver around, often not letting them out of their sight. It can be challenging to the caregiver, who just wants a few moments alone. It is important to understand that this behavior is not intentional. The person with dementia may be fearful of losing the caregiver, experiencing increased confusion, or feeling anxiety. It provides them a sense of security to have the caregiver close by.
Coming up with possible activities your dad might enjoy is a great idea. This will also serve to give your mom a break. It is important to make sure she has some time to herself. You do not want the activity to create more work for her. You could offer to come do it with him or provide a caregiver who could keep him engaged, so she can have a few moments on her own, while knowing he is safe. Here are a few ideas, depending on his interest and abilities. If something is frustrating to him, move on and try something else.
• Tap into his familiarity of plumbing and provide a container of PVC plumbing parts he can put
together and take apart.
• Create a fidget board with different tools from the hardware store, safely secured (no small or
lose parts) that he can tinker with. Etsy has some excellent options.
• Hand him a laundry basket of shop towels to sort and fold.
• Create a picture book of family photos, with labels that he can flip through and read.
• Record family messages and stories in a familiar voice. Your mom can play these for him when he is feeling restless. Familiar music can be soothing as well.
• If he enjoys any of the classic television shows, like Andy Griffith, purchase the DVDs so that he can watch them at any time.
• Picture books of transportation modes (planes, trains, automobiles) can be a way to reminisce
and remind him of pleasant memories from growing up.
• Sorting or sanding wood pieces can help to keep his hands busy.
• Large print word search puzzles or painting/building projects, like a bird house.
• If all else fails, try a good snack.
Encourage your mom to reassure him that he is safe and at home. Visual cues, like a white board or printed sign might help to remind him. She can also keep a journal that tracks when certain behaviors occur. This will help his care team determine other helpful interventions that might be available. It will also help to identify a pattern and if a certain time of day becomes increasingly difficult; this may be the time to bring in a caregiver to assist or take him for a walk. Be creative, as long as he is safe doing the activity, there is no wrong answer.
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