May 29, 2015

4 ways to connect with people who are living with Alzheimer's

Making a connection is essential for the well being of people living with Alzheimer’s.

There are four special activities that can typically reach and engage people at any point in the disease’s progression, even with those in the later stages who may no longer talk or smile, let alone recognize love ones.

I'll Take Care of You | Alzheimer's Reading Room

By Marie Marley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Caregivers are sometimes amazed to find that their loved ones can suddenly function at a higher level when involved in certain types of activities.

When choosing entertainment it’s important to select things loved ones enjoy and are capable of doing at their state of the disease.

If you try to engage with people who have Alzheimer’s the way you did before they developed the disease, you may end up disappointed, disheartened, and probably depressed.

Engaging with these people at their current developmental level, however, can lead to unexpected pleasure – even joy - for both of you!

Some special activities are virtually guaranteed to reach persons at all stages of the disease.

The four most common are 1) Being visited by a child, 2) Being visited by a pet, 3) Listening to or performing music and 4) Observing or creating artwork.

Let’s look at each individually:

1. Being Visited by a Child

It’s a well-known fact that children can reach people with dementia at a deep emotional level that adults often cannot. Blank stares may remain blank when an adult enters the room, but when a child comes in, those stares may turn to smiles, even for patients in the latest stage of the disease.

Children can play with patients just as adults can. If you need some specific ideas check out the Alzheimer’s Association website, which has a list of 101 things a child can do with someone who has Alzheimer’s.

Arranging for a beloved grandchild or other young child to visit may be just what the doctor ordered. (When doing so, of course, be sure the child wants to visit and feels comfortable doing so.)

Come Back Early Today

2. Being Visited by a Pet

Much like children, animals can often touch people with Alzheimer’s more deeply than people can. Ed, my life partner who developed Alzheimer’s typically ignored me completely whenever I took my little Shih Tzu, Peter, to visit him. He gave all of his attention to the dog.

I’m reminded of a mid-stage Alzheimer’s patient at the facility where Ed lived who always had a blank expression on her face and never answered my greeting. I never heard her talk to anyone else either. But her eyes always lit up when I took Peter with me. Then one day when I arrived without him she spoke to me for the first time ever, asking “Where’s the dog?”

There was another incident with a late-stage Alzheimer’s patient whose face Peter licked when I held him up for her to see. I told her Peter didn’t usually “kiss” people he didn’t know, and she immediately answered, “Dogs are very selective.” That was the first lucid remark she’d made for months.

3. Listening to or Performing Music

Music also has the power to reach Alzheimer’s patients on a profound level. It may have positive effects on their health and social functioning.

After listening to music, some are clearly calmer, in a better mood and more outgoing than before, which improves the quality of life for both the patient and the caregiver.

Music has even been found to help those with dementia retrieve some memories their caregivers had assumed were lost forever.

Often times late stage Alzheimer’s patients can sing songs, including the lyrics, long after they’ve lost the ability to recognize loved ones, dress themselves, or remember what happened five minutes earlier. You may even find that music is the only thing to which some late stage loved ones will respond.

For more specific ideas about how to use music to engage people who have dementia you can refer to my previous article on that topic.

4. Observing or Creating Artwork

If your loved one is able to go out, a trip to an art museum could be very beneficial. Just looking at art, much like listening to music, has been shown to calm dementia patients.

Working on art projects is also an excellent activity for Alzheimer’s patients because it uses a part of the brain that is less affected by the disease.

People living with Alzheimer’s can often still create striking art work that allows them to express themselves and connect with their loved ones – even when they can no longer speak.

You can arrange various types of art projects for you loved one. Common activities include painting with water colors, coloring with crayons, making scrapbooks or molding objects out of clay.

As with all of the other activities mentioned in this article, it’s important for you to participate in the process by sitting beside and interacting with the person during the process of creating art.

So there you have it – children, pets, music and art. Try them out. I hope one or more of them will be rewarding to you and your loved one in some way.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book,
Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy.
Her website ( contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer’s caregivers.

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