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Creating Memories with Seniors in The Face of Memory Loss

The effects of dementia on family members and friends can be difficult to deal with as older loved ones suffer with memory loss. Grown children and grandchildren may yearn to maintain connections with the seniors in their lives who are having trouble remembering shared experiences, milestone occasions, or even names.

However, there are many wonderful ways that families can create new memories for themselves and reawaken the joy of past people, places and things for seniors with dementia.

Memory boxes. Memory boxes, like scrapbooks, help seniors recall events and people from the past. The memory boxes and the memories they hold—literally and figuratively—can stimulate the person with dementia and prompt conversation. Memory boxes can be about one specific event, person or time in one’s life and they link the senior to his or her identity. Making and looking through a memory box can also lift spirits and spur creativity.

Items to include can be family photos, newspaper clippings, recipes, artwork by the grandchildren, and personal keepsakes; think of items that bring back memories of the loved one’s youth, special achievements, a beloved family pet or favorite vacation place. The box can be a shoe box or plastic bin—something easy to decorate, lift and open, and that can store items of different shapes and sizes. If your loved ones needs some prompts, you can label the items with stickers or tags to spur a memory and get your loved one to talk about the objects and events they are associated with.

Playing favorite music. Just as photos bring back memories for seniors with dementia, so can listening to music—especially music of their youth. Upon hearing music, many older adults with memory impairment become more alert; many will sing along, clap their hands and tap their feet. In our Memory Care Suite, residents enjoy weekly music therapy programs and iPods are available with music for them to listen to and bring back those happy memories. Because music crosses generations, visiting grandchildren can sing along and create a beautiful memory in the moment for everyone.

Bake or cook something together. The sensory stimulation of aroma can bring back memories—and doing the activity together can be fun. We have a baking club that meets every week in our kitchen to make something together and share memories of favorite foods (and some goodies).

Make a video. Provide some gentle prompts that help your loved one to share some family history, a funny story or personal events; or record family visits to play back for your loved one. Get the kids involved and on camera, too during the “interviews.” This is a beautiful way to strengthen family bonds and create a keepsake for the next generation. You can also have your family pre-record video messages to play for your loved one to brighten his or her day, remind them of their family connections and create a feeling of familiarity if they are no longer living at home. If you have old home movies, consider transferring them to DVD and watch them together—and enjoy a nice trip down memory lane.

Create art. Art give seniors with dementia a creative outlet, promotes relaxation and improves mood. Doing art together as a family also enables everyone to enjoy a fun activity together, even when verbal communication is difficult for the senior. Whether it’s drawing, painting, or flower arranging, a keepsake is also created that the person can keep in his or her room … and remember a happy moment with family or friends. At the Lester Senior Housing Community, our eclectic creative arts program is popular with residents in our independent living and assisted living buildings, including residents in our Memory Care Suite.

As you’ll see on our calendars, we offer our memory care residents a full range of activities that both stimulate and soothe: poetry and conversation circles, floral arts, music therapy and baking, aromatherapy and pet therapy among them. If you have a loved one with memory loss, we invite you to take a tour of our Memory Care Suite and learn more about our personalized approach to caring for seniors with dementia. Contact David Rozen at DavidR@richardc95.sg-host.com or 973-929-2725.

The Importance of Good Nutrition for Dementia Sufferers

So many of the things we take for granted in life become difficult for those with dementia, not the least of which is eating healthy and nutritious meals. Poor nutrition can increase a dementia patient’s behavioral symptoms. It can also cause weight loss that could make a person’s condition deteriorate more rapidly. To prevent these issues for seniors with memory disorders, caregivers need to make sure that those in their care are getting nutritious meals that help them maintain their physical and cognitive health.

It sounds simple, right? However, for a variety of reasons, people with dementia, especially older adults, don’t always want to eat. Some reasons for this include:

  • Not recognizing food. The person may no longer be familiar with the foods that they may have eaten in the past.
  • Ill-fitting dentures. Eating may hurt because of dentures that don’t fit correctly.
  • Medications. Any additions to or changes in medications may change the patient’s appetite.
  • Not enough exercise. Not exercising will decrease a person’s appetite.
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste. This may cause the food to be less appetizing as it once was.

Despite all of these issues, a healthy eating plan is important for seniors with dementia. They don’t need to have any special diet, unless they have other issues that call for certain food restrictions. If not, they should eat a well-balanced, varied and nutritious diet which will help them maintain optimal health.

Here are some ways you can help someone with dementia to keep up good eating habits for as long as possible:

  • Limit distractions. Serve meals in a quiet place. Avoid television or other distractions so the person can concentrate on eating.
  • Keep the table setting simple. Don’t put items on the table such as centerpieces or plastic fruit that might distract or confuse the person. That goes for extra utensils as well; only put utensils on the table that the person needs.
  • Distinguish food from the plate. Someone with dementia may have a hard time distinguishing food from the plate or the plate from the table because of impaired visual abilities. Try to use white plates or bowls with a contrasting color placemat. Avoid anything with patterns.
  • Check the food temperature. A person with dementia might not be able to tell if something is too hot to eat or drink and may burn themselves. Test food and drink temperature before serving.
  • Serve only one or two foods at a time. Too many foods at once may be confusing to the patient. Try serving one food at a time, for example, mashed potatoes followed by meat.
  • Be flexible to food preferences. Dementia patients may not remember liking certain foods, or may suddenly like something that they didn’t care for previously. Keep that in mind when preparing food. This is one of the ways our individualized comfort care comes into play in our Memory Care Suite; it’s about providing what the individual prefers.
  • Give the person plenty of time to eat. This helps avoid the risk of choking and creates a calm atmosphere, so important for emotional well-being.
  • Eat together. Make meals a social event so residents look forward to the mealtime. Research suggests that people eat better when they are in the company of others.
  • Keep in mind that people with dementia may not remember when or if they ate. If the person asks over and over about eating breakfast, consider serving several breakfasts—maybe eggs, then toast, then a pancake, then juice.

At the Lester Senior Housing Community’s Memory Care Suite, we understand the importance of good nutrition and caring for healthy bodies as well as minds and spirits. Healthful and enjoyable meal experiences for our residents are just one component of the holistic, person-centered care our caregivers provide. If you have a loved one with a memory disorder who would benefit from Memory Care at Lester, contact David Rozen at (973) 929-2725 or davidr@richardc95.sg-host.com.