Activity, Purpose and Alzheimer’s – The Alzheimer’s Quality of Life Challenge (6 of 6)
“There is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself.” So wrote the psychologist Erich Fromm.
This quote seems relevant when approaching Alzheimer’s from a more philosophical standpoint. Alzheimer’s is feared by people of all ages, precisely because it strikes the very core of our personalities, emotions, memories and intellect: the brain. Few things are scarier than losing control over that which makes us who we are, and some may assume that life will rapidly become meaningless with the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s. It’s important to remember, however, that meaningful experiences can be had even in the context of the natural declines associated with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s may introduce many limitations into a person’s life, but with some thoughtful care and attention, seniors with the condition can live active lives that have great meaning and purpose.
Activities for Seniors with Alzheimer’s
To help achieve this, the NIH SeniorHealth has compiled a fantastic list of suggested activities for people with Alzheimer’s. While some are skeptical of the benefit that comes from these types of activities, one study’s author asked: “Does it matter if a demented person cannot remember five minutes after a therapeutic activity that the activity has taken place? Can you honestly remember what you did last Thursday evening?” For example, listening to music is one powerful option that can bring immediate, positive effects for seniors living with Alzheimer’s. Music can be a positive intervention for these individuals by connecting with their core senses to help remind them of their strength and humanity. More specifically, it can help people with Alzheimer’s by improving their mood, initiating positive interactions with others, stimulating their cognitive functioning, coordinating their motor skills, and decreasing their feelings of agitation.
Activities of Daily Living
Seniors with Alzheimer’s can also experience positive outcomes through improving their capabilities with daily living activities such as doing housework, preparing food, making phone calls or managing finances. Individuals with Alzheimer’s who live alone can typically perform basic tasks such as getting dressed and using the bathroom, but they may have trouble with shopping, taking medications, house cleaning or making doctor’s appointments. In the early stages of the condition, these tasks can sometimes be accomplished with minimal help. Establishing routines or a calendar can help those with Alzheimer’s gain some measure of control over lives and provide them with a sense of achievement. In fact, one study found that seniors who regularly engaged in housework experienced an increase in their emotional wellbeing.
Exercise is another activity that can brighten the moods and physical capabilities of seniors with Alzheimer’s. Because physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, engaging in some form of regular exercise may also strengthen seniors’ cognition and memory, possibly slowing the progression of the condition. One study examined two groups of individuals with Alzheimer’s for a one year period: one group regularly exercised, the other group did not. While both groups saw a weakening of physical ability over the course of the year, the active group deteriorated at a slower rate. In addition, seniors who exercised were significantly less costly to the healthcare system than their sedentary counterparts, to the tune of roughly $12,000.
Spirituality and Religion
Activities are one way to build confidence, strength and meaning for seniors with Alzheimer’s. Spirituality and religion are another. In the early stages of the disease when religious concepts can still be grasped with clarity, belief in a higher power can prepare seniors with Alzheimer’s for the tough road ahead. They may gain courage to face future challenges, and they may be better prepared to cope with the forthcoming limitations that they will experience. One study of religious seniors found that spiritual belief was more effective than other methods of self-care. Another group of researchers seemed to agree, finding that seniors with Alzheimer’s who reported higher religiosity seemed to experience slower cognitive impairment than those who noted lower religiosity. Prayer and religion have also proven themselves as strong coping tactics for caregivers.
Through regular engagement with some type of spiritual practice or other stimulating activity, seniors with Alzheimer’s can build and strengthen their feelings of life purpose and meaning. Because of this, those who care for seniors with Alzheimer’s would benefit from understanding the activities that are important to the individuals they serve. In addition, caregivers should attempt to create situations that allow these individuals to engage in their important activities frequently and positively.
We hope that this blog series has provided insight into Alzheimer’s from a holistic viewpoint. Seniors with Alzheimer’s, along with their caregivers, friends and loved ones, all have important information to contribute to our understanding of how to best help those living with the condition. Compiling knowledge from all of these sources regarding the issues that seniors struggle with, along with the approaches and strategies that will most effectively improve their lives, is an invaluable part of the process in caring for these individuals.To go to the first blog entry of this series, click here.
The Alzheimer’s Quality of Life Challenge
Home care services that bring a sense of familiarity, support and warmth can offer the benefits that seniors with Alzheimer’s used to experience in previous friendships. On its own, data can’t build these relationships, but it can help caretakers familiarize themselves with the struggles experienced by seniors with Alzheimer’s and respond in effective ways. Join us for SeniorGrowth’s Quality of Life Challenge, and offer the seniors that you serve the high quality of care that they deserve. You can still sign up and participate. Get started by clicking the button below.