02/09/2012 01:48 pm ET | Updated Apr 10, 2012

Creative Entertainment for People With Early- and Mid-Stage Alzheimer's

All people with Alzheimer's and other dementias need to have entertainment. It's essential to their overall wellbeing. The key to success in providing entertainment is to find activities appropriate for the person's stage of the disease.

Generally speaking, when planning entertainment for people with dementia there's "play," then there's "Play!" The former includes pursuits that are relatively passive -- things the person could pretty much do alone, like folding laundry, sorting various items or doing other rote activities. And those certainly have value. Many people with dementia thoroughly enjoy such activities.

But what I'm talking about here is how you, the caregiver, interact with someone who has Alzheimer's. How you play with the person who is now functioning more like an infant, toddler, or young child than like an adult. I'm talking about how you actively engage with them the same way you might with young children.

Of course, when choosing entertainment it's important to select things your loved one enjoys and is capable of doing. If the person is generally functioning at the level of a toddler, for example, try activities you'd use in playing with a real toddler.

Activities for Early-Stage Alzheimer's Patients

At this stage you can often share in whatever fun activities the person enjoyed before developing Alzheimer's. Some games may need to be adjusted, however, to accommodate your loved one's diminishing mental capacity. For example, you may need to play a child's card game instead of bridge; checkers instead of chess. Or, if the person previously enjoyed jigsaw puzzles, you may need to find ones with fewer and larger pieces. Similarly, you may have to use board games designed for young children rather than ones that appeal mostly to adults.

Activities for Mid-Stage Alzheimer's Patients

At this stage, people with Alzheimer's may have more or less the mental and social skills of a kindergartener. While it's fine to do the old standbys -- things like looking at old pictures or watching movies together, those are somewhat passive. With a little thought you can find more active ways to spend time together, such as giving the person toys or other "props" the two of you play with together. The key words here are "play" and "together."

Many people with Alzheimer's enjoy stuffed animals, doll babies and other children's toys. If you find some item the person really likes, you can use your imagination, again, to invent simple games to play together with these things.

My 92-year-old loved one, for example, could hardly carry out an intelligent conversation but loved playing with stuffed animals and even gave them names. In my book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy, I describe the games we played together with the enormous collection of stuffed animals I had taken to him. We always ended up giggling like a mother and small child playing together.

Some Specific Entertainment Resources

You can find puzzles designed especially for Alzheimer's patients at PuzzlesToRemember. They come in various sizes and number of pieces to accommodate the skills of early- or middle-stage patients. Other sources for entertainment can be found at Best Alzheimer's Products, an online store that features games for those with Alzheimer's. Pete the Repeat Parrot is a stuffed animal that repeats whatever you say to it. Many people with dementia just love their Pete. You can purchase one at Amazon.

Another resource is the Alzheimer's Association's seven-page PDF on its website titled "Activities at Home." It has excellent and detailed guidance for people who are planning activities for Alzheimer's patients. Although intended for use in the home, you can also use many of the ideas for a loved one in a long-term care facility.

It goes without saying that some people with Alzheimer's will not enjoy any form of entertainment, but try experimenting with the ideas mentioned here. You may be amazed to find your loved one can suddenly function at a higher level and become more contented and cheerful. And that will bring joy to both of you.

Note: For guidance in reaching people with late-stage dementia see Connecting with Alzheimer's Patients Even in the Latest Stage of the Disease.

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