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Elder Care Management 101: Can People with Dementia Lead a Full and Meaningful Life?


Sometimes as families struggle with the basics of elder care management, the human being can get lost.  There is so much to take in. The daily tasks of care, learning about the disease, changes in behavior can all be overwhelming. You can be so distracted. And, yet, you will likely also have a mix of feelings about missing that person and wishing that they were still “all” there. Here are some reminders to help keep the person you love in the picture.

Keep Physical as Long as Possible

Some of the best advice I was given in caring for my own mother with Alzheimer’s was from her neurologist. He said, make sure that she continues to do the physical tasks that she normally would do for as long as she can. Muscle memory helps people retain activity that is part of being human. This means setting the table, brushing her own hair, opening a book.

Over time, she can do less of this, but it is surprising the things that she can continue to do when prompted. She was always a “What can I do to help you?” type of person. Even small activities can lend a sense of purpose.

Exercise: Think Creatively

Exercise is essential for everybody, including those with dementia. You know that great feeling after a workout is done?  It’s a boost for your mood and self-esteem. The same is true for people with dementia. They benefit emotionally and physically from exercise.

It can come in many different forms. One older woman I knew became less and less able to talk. Her previously expressive face became a blank. Without someone nudging her, she would mostly sit. But, her daughter discovered that her mom really liked the vacuum cleaner. She would be fully engaged in vacuuming for about an hour at a time. And, that counts as exercise and purpose.

The Human Connection

There’s a hard truth with dementia. As it advances, close relationships are in shorter supply. Their social world gets smaller. If possible, do what you can to expand opportunities to see and relate to people. A senior day center or even an online senior center class can be helpful. A regular walk in a park or in the neighborhood can be a good people watching opportunity. It allow some easy exchange of greetings and seeing new faces.

Video Calls Can Spark Memories

Zoom meetings can be tiring for many of us. But, video calls can be a source of human connection. They are most successful if you plan for “tech assistance.” Recruit a family member or staff person to be on hand. This limits the possibility of frustration.

My mother is often delighted and amazed at the technology. She loves that she can see me and talk to me. I give her a tour of my kitchen, “introduce” her (again and again) to my cat. It’s like the movie Groundhog’s Day. We play the scene over and over again. But, that brief joy on my mother’s face makes it all worth it.

More Tips for Caregivers to Create a More Fulfilling Life for a Person with Dementia
  • If you can, take your family member out with you on an errand or for a drive in the car. Everyone needs to see and be a part of the world around them and not confined to four walls. It’s like hitting the Refresh button for all of us mentally.
  • Dabble in the arts. I’ve found that different arts allow a person to express some feelings that may stay hidden. And, don’t steer away from this if a person did not do art activities in the past. Even if your family member hated musicals, try putting on something from their era. You might be surprised to hear them singing or humming along. Get some simple crafts or drawing or painting materials. Add dance by standing or sitting in a chair. They can get exercise and express their feelings with movement. More ideas from the Alzheimer’s Association here.
  • Explore connections with others as much as possible. Schedule a regular session to look at photo albums. It’s great to discuss old family photos, vacation spots and friends and neighbors. Even if a person becomes less verbal, they can enjoy seeing familiar faces who were a part of their life.

You can read more in our book, Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home.

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