News & Resources

Making the Most of It: How to Still Find Joy in Dementia

May 18, 2023

Jay Burkhardt

Julie Bingham, CCC-SLP, CDP, CADDCT, is the owner of Tree of Life Dementia Care Counseling & a collaborator with Benchmark Senior Solutions. She recently presented to our Caregiver Support Group. She kindly offered to share the top 5 takeaways from her session. They are:

  1. TAKE IT ALL IN. Understand that sensory-emotional memories (what we sensed and how we felt about it) are stored in the amygdala primarily and episodic memories (things that happened) are stored in the hippocampus in the brain. The hippocampus comes under direct attack as most dementias progress, which is why short-term memory is so impaired. However, stimulating familiar sensory memories can enhance both long-term recall and the potential to embed new memories.
  2. GET EARS AND EYES CHECKED REGULARLY. Sensory loss and subsequent deprivation, mainly through declining hearing and vision, increases the risk of cognitive decline and exacerbates any current cognitive impairment. Clean glasses of the correct prescription and working hearing aids are crucial to maintaining awareness and understanding of the world around us. As caregivers, we must ensure that the person with dementia has access to whatever is needed to maximize those functions
  3. CREATE JOY IN YOUR INTERACTIONS. Consider the sensory stimulation opportunities in any activity or visit to make it a positive experience for the person with dementia. As the caregiver and/or loved one, you still have the chance to create joyful experiences with a person who cannot remember all of the joyful experiences from before. Joy and laughter = positive endorphins and neurotransmitters in the brain and body = improved heart rate, blood pressure, and overall mood for your loved one. Bet it works for you, too.
  4. BE CREATIVE AND ADAPTABLE. Everything around you has the potential to create even the silliest of small activities and an opportunity for joy. Don’t be afraid to be silly!!! Engagement is the goal, not perfection. Look around your home at even the most mundane items and think of two ways you could use it for an activity. You’d be surprised what gems you have around you already! Bonus if you can think of at least two senses it could stimulate! Also, remember that a new activity that isn’t hugely successful shouldn’t be discarded. Every person functions at a different cognitive reserve every single day. Something that works one day may not work another. This is where the idea of having at least two ideas of how you would use an item comes in handy. And always remember, activities should be errorless! Perfection is not the goal. Engagement and positive interaction is.
  5. STAY IN THE PRESENT IF THAT’S WHERE YOUR PERSON IS. Some days an activity or item may bring that person into a beautiful moment of reminiscence while other days it triggers no recall. Continue to engage with aspects of the item or activity that the person enjoyed (ex. washing and painting seashells or running hands through sand and filling buckets both stimulate talk about the ocean and beach and sensory memory, even if your person can’t recall that wonderful trip you took) so learn to just GO WITH IT if it creates joy!

We offer free caregiver support groups monthly, open to anyone caring for an older loved one. To learn more, visit the caregiver support page.