With the unofficial start of summer underway, many of us are eagerly anticipating all that this fun-filled season has to offer. There are so many things to look forward to that involve family -- from Father's Day and Fourth of July, to barbeques and vacations at the beach. For those planning to spend time with a loved one who has Alzheimer's or another form of memory loss, the rising temperatures are a great opportunity to create an enjoyable summer filled with meaningful activities, while at the same time keeping an eye on safety.
Embrace Tradition: What was your mom or dad's favorite summertime tradition? Whether it was the yearly trip to a nearby beach or lake or the annual Independence Day barbeque, you can still incorporate these traditions with a little adaptation.
If your mom was well known in the neighborhood for hosting an annual Independence Day barbecue, recreate that experience at your own home and bring the party to her. Ask her to help you prepare her favorite dishes and play some of her favorite tunes from summer's past. Research continually points to the powerful benefits of music for those experiencing memory loss. The simple act of singing along to a favorite song benefits one's spirit and also their mind, by improving the flow of oxygen, which can lead to improved alertness, motor control and coordination. I've covered this topic in a previous piece and marvel at watching the positive experiences residents have in our Sunrise communities when music is played.
Get Active: There are so many warm-weather games and activities during the summer, but they may be physically challenging for someone with memory loss. A little tweaking can go a long way toward including your loved one in all the fun.
Just about any physical activity can be adapted with a little extra thought, creativity and planning. For instance if your dad spent his summers on the golf course but now lacks the endurance and focus to play a full game, he can still play his favorite game. Simply adapt it to a small putting green or make it easier yet by playing while seated in a chair on the green. If your family is playing a game of horse shoe or bocce ball, your loved one can still get involved by sitting in a chair and tossing the ball. Be mindful of weight, and should the object be too heavy, adapt the game further by using a lighter object to toss. If he would rather sit by the sidelines, ask him to serve as a referee or simply cheer the teams on. The key is to make him feel engaged and successful.
Gardening is another activity that can be adapted for nearly anyone to enjoy. Plant some of your loved one's vegetables with her, and then reap the benefits by using the fresh produce in meals you can create together. Simply spending one-on-one time with your loved one and listening to their advice about gardening will make them feel loved and appreciated.
Keep Things Comfortable: While watching Fourth of July fireworks may appeal to the rest of your family, loud noises and crowds can cause confusion and anxiety for persons with memory loss. It's important to be sensitive to their likes and dislikes. If he still likes the sights but doesn't enjoy the sounds or the large excited crowd, consider finding a good outdoor vantage point and enjoy the fireworks from a distance or stay at home and watch the celebrations in the comfort of your own family room.
Do you have a family reunion on the horizon? Keep in mind that this type of event -- one where remembering names and faces is key -- may be stressful for your loved one as they struggle to connect names. The Alzheimer's Association advises to prepare family members and the person with Alzheimer's in advance for the get together, and to have a back-up plan where your loved one can enjoy special one to one time with a favorite relative or will have a place to rest if they start to feel overwhelmed.
Stay Safe: Dehydration is one of the biggest causes of heat-related issues, so it's important to stay hydrated, especially for seniors with memory loss. Educate yourself on the signs of dehydration, which are often less pronounced in seniors and encourage your loved one to sip water throughout the day. When outside for extended periods of time, be sure to scope out a nice shady spot and wear light-colored clothing.
Adaptations to summertime traditions and activities can go a long way in creating a pleasant experience for the whole family. And many of these tips will be useful well past Labor Day.
While it can be discouraging knowing that your loved one can no longer participate in some activities the same way, try to live in the moment and focus on everything they can still enjoy doing. Even if they can't vocalize it, you'll know if it was a hit by observing the sparkle in their eye and smile on their face. This is all the proof that you'll need to know that your loved one is grateful for the efforts you've made to bring them the same pleasures that they always made possible for you.