Alzheimer's disease can be very isolating for the patient. The symptoms include not just memory loss, but difficulty making and keeping plans, confusion about time and dates, and mood swings and personality changes. All of these can push family and friends away and prevent the patient from interacting with others, which can leave them without much to do. Unfortunately, isolation only makes the symptoms worse. Staying busy is important for Alzheimer's patients – having stimulating activities to do can keep them happier, more connected to their loved ones, and possibly even slow the progression of the disease. Take a look at some of the best activities for Alzheimer's patients.
Bingo games in senior centers and nursing homes are practically a stereotype. Everyone's seen a scene with a bingo hall full of seniors in movies or television shows. But there may be a reason why bingo is such a fixture in places where the people at the most risk for Alzheimer's disease gather. It turns out that bingo may actually help boost cognitive function.
Researchers tested study participants with bingo cards in a variety of sizes, color contrasts, and visual complexities to find out if and how changing the cards changed the ways that people played. Large cards with higher contrasts improved the thinking and playing skills of patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. The changes in the cards allowed patients with mild Alzheimer's to play on a level comparable with their peers who did not have Alzheimer's disease. On top of these benefits, the social interaction involved in bingo is also good for keeping the mind healthier.
When you think of video games, you're probably more likely to think of teenagers than seniors. But the same video games that can keep children entranced for hours might become valuable tools in the quest to find better treatments for patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Scientists have found that 3D games help improve the memory of the gamer.
In a study that involved volunteers playing the game Super Mario 3D, researchers found a 12% improvement in the memories of volunteers who played. Scientists believe that these games improve memory by stimulating the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that's important to memory function. Diseases like Alzheimer's, as well as regular aging, both work to reduce the size of the hippocampus, limiting its function. Stimulating 3D games can help ward off that damage. And while video games can be played alone, they're also a fun social activity. A grandchild and grandparent can bond over a game and strengthen their memories together.
There are many ways to incorporate music into an Alzheimer's patient's day, from playing CDs to having a singalong to taking the patient to a concert. Music is more than just a pleasant way to pass the time. Music may actually help Alzheimer's patients access memories that they can't otherwise recall.
Memories of music are stored differently than memories of specific events. Once a piece of music is learned, it's stored as a procedural memory, which you may have heard called muscle memory. This is the same way that you remember repetitive tasks. Procedural memory is not affected by Alzheimer's in the same way that memories of specific events are, which means that it's easier for Alzheimer's patients to recall. However, music also has an emotional quality, and it can be linked to emotional events. So listening to music may help an Alzheimer's patient remember a time in their life that's associated with that music in their minds. This can help trigger memories that are otherwise inaccessible to those patients. There's even some evidence that music could help patients form new memories – researchers have found that patients remember new lyrics better when they hear them sung than when they hear them spoken.
If you have an Alzheimer's patient in your life, helping them get involved in these activities, or even participating with them, can help prevent them from experiencing loneliness and isolation, as well as help them slow the progression of Alzheimer's symptoms. If your loved one is in a nursing home or memory care unit, talk to the caretakers about including these activities in their treatment.