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Do you have any evening activity ideas for someone with dementia? I'm running out!

February 3, 2012
Question: By the end of the day, I’ve often run out of ideas of things to do with Mom. Do you have any ideas for a successful evening activity that isn’t too much work?

Two of my favorite things work well with persons with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia in the evening — music and movies.

Music is particularly effective with persons with cognitive loss; for example, many caregivers have noticed that their family members enjoy singing and can recall song lyrics long after writing and speech have declined. Mother may not be able to name a fork or spoon or express her thoughts well, but she still knows all the old song lyrics to her favorite song or hymn.

Evening activities involving music can include a simple sing along, an “evening concert” where you listen to some of your favorite songs or singers on CD player, cable/satellite television system or internet radio. Announce each song; let Mom know that she is now listening to Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York.” As you enjoy the music, pause occasionally to talk about the song lyrics or singer. For example, ask your Mom if she is a Frank Sinatra or Elvis fan, or discuss the meaning of the words in a favorite song or hymn.

I was a caregiver for my mother, Dorothy, who passed away with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008. She enjoyed watching Lawrence Welk reruns in the evening and also loved videos I would pull up for her on You Tube including old Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong standards like “What a Wonderful World.”

Music has an added dividend – it may actually be therapeutic for persons with dementia. A recent Boston University study noted that music might help persons with Alzheimer’s disease retain information longer. [Source: http://www.bu.edu/today/2010/music-boosts-memory-in-alzheimer%E2%80%99s/].

Starting a “movie night” ritual is also a good evening activity. Pick a theme for the month like westerns, movie musicals or movies themed around a particular star like Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne or Judy Garland. Use the Internet to pull up trivia about the star so that you can have some fun facts to discuss. “Mom did you know that your favorite Wizard of Oz star, Judy Garland’s real name was Frances Ethel Gumm?”

Make the evening special. Pop some popcorn or serve some healthy snacks and beverages. If you have younger children or grandchildren in the home, use a movie night to create an intergenerational activity. Show the movie over special nights if Mom’s attention span is short. Pause the movie to enjoy the discussion. You might want to talk about the costumes, the scenery or even the theme of the movie if Mom is able to follow the conversation.

Music and movies have one more advantage. When you create this evening ritual, Mom may settle down and enjoy the experience on her own, allowing you to get some chores done, take a short break or get ready for the next day. Music and movies can give you a break too!

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