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Here is a way for nurses administrators, social workers and other health care professionals to get an easyceu or two
Here are more interesting dementia brain boosting activities
By KRISTEN GERENCHER
Watching a loved one with dementia reach the final stages is heartbreaking. But you don't have to give up on maintaining a meaningful connection with that person.
Even when memory fails and abilities diminish, friends and relatives can find activities that engage the afflicted person. They can adapt favorite hobbies from the past or try new ones such as listening to or playing music, doing art projects or going fishing together. The key is to keep trying to include the person in activities even if they're relatively simple or mundane, aging experts say.
."People get afraid and think 'I don't know what I'm going to say or do,'" says Beth Kallmyer, senior director of constituent services for the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago.
People with dementia may not react the way they did before they got sick, but they still need company and stimulation, she says.
"You might see their eyes light up," Ms. Kallmyer says. "They may be able to smile, make a joke, engage you in a way that surprises you."
When Andrea Kay's father started declining more rapidly in late 2008, she wanted to find a way to reach him and make the most of the time they had left together.
"When I would visit him, it would be increasingly difficult to have a conversation with him," she says.
In early 2009, she started bringing her drawing pad and offered to draw him, which she had done earlier in her life. He agreed and a new ritual was born.
"He loved it because I gave him my full attention," says Ms. Kay, a career consultant and author in Cincinnati. "When you're drawing someone, you're looking deep into their eyes and that's what I loved about it, looking deep into his face and capturing him looking back at me."
She also wrote down comments he made as they talked and her father gently criticized her work, which she says was characteristic of his earlier self. She accumulated about 30 drawings documenting her father's changing features and expressions.
After he died in August 2009, Ms. Kay turned her work into an art show and performance called Flutterby. The name comes from a conversation they had when Ms. Kay pointed out a butterfly to her ailing father, and he recalled that she had referred to them as "flutterbys" when she was little.
"There's a great need for people to understand how to be with someone who is dying or cannot communicate," Ms. Kay says. "People don't want to be around it. And yet there is a way, I discovered, to be there and to have a relationship with somebody even if they don't communicate in the old way."
More families are poised to face similar challenges as the baby-boom generation gets older. Last year, about 15 million family members and friends cared for people with Alzheimer's or other kinds of dementia, amounting to 17 billion hours of unpaid care, according to the Alzheimer's Association. By 2050, the number of people with the disease is projected to balloon to as many as 16 million Americans, up from 5.4 million today.
Shared activities don't always require a lot of effort. If a person used to like to cook or wash dishes, tasks such as mixing ingredients or scrubbing plates may serve to keep patients engaged with their families, which can help alleviate challenging behavior, says Ms. Kallmyer. "If they feel useful in the kitchen, with a little supervision that's a great activity."
As a board-certified music therapist, Kat Fulton of San Diego works with many seniors who have dementia. For some, playing a musical instrument or singing becomes a way to ease the agitation that often comes with the disease. A few months ago, an elderly woman in a skilled-nursing facility was thought to be nonverbal until Ms. Fulton began singing Tin Pan Alley songs and the woman joined in with words and happy gestures.
"The music opened up opportunities for her to feel safe to communicate in whatever ways she could communicate," she says.
Families can do their own version of music therapy, Ms. Fulton says. Her advice: Figure out what music was popular and which songs hit the charts when your loved one was young and then play and sing those tunes together.
"Maybe they were too inhibited to ever dance or too shy to ever sing or play the drum or clap their hands," Ms. Fulton says. "But now you're kind of dealing with a new person. A lot of the inhibitions are lost."
"It's never too late to teach someone with Alzheimer's something new, especially if it's brought in on a repetitive basis and it's music," she says.
The Alzheimer's Association has an always-open, toll-free helpline (1-800-272-3900), which people can call to brainstorm ideas on how to stay connected with a loved one who has dementia.