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Preventing Apathy in those with Dementia

By July 28, 2015Dementia

Apathy, or a lack of emotion or interest, is a symptom quite common to people developing dementia. Apathy, along with forgetfulness and difficulty functioning, is a sign that underlying changes are occurring in the brain. People suffering from dementia benefit from stimulation and interaction with others. Without it, they suffer from apathy, which hastens the decline into advanced dementia, and can cause depression. Studies show that approximately 90 percent of those with dementia suffer from apathy.

Dementia gradually steals the functions of the brain, however, increasingly researchers are showing us that interaction and stimulation with dementia patients can bring alive what remains mentally and emotionally. Dementia patients may forget names and dates. They may forget labels such as “You are my daughter” or “You are my husband.”

There are several ways to provide stimulation to those who suffer from dementia. Conversations with other people are considered moderate stimulation. Even if the dementia patient is non-verbal, they will respond to people telling them stories in an animated fashion and singing to them.

A holiday celebration is considered strong stimulation. Playing music on St. Patrick’s Day, or carols and hymns during the Christmas season will activate the brain. Non-verbal dementia patients may begin to sing the verses. The bright colors and happy sounds of any party will engage the patient and lift their spirits.

It’s an obvious thing to say, but it helps to remember that dementia patients aren’t just sick, they are human beings and they will respond to other human beings. They can be stimulated by touch; stroking their arms, brushing their hair, giving them manicures, and pedicures. All of these things bring warmth and a nurturing human touch to people who can still connect on some level with other human beings.

Toys that are safe for infants are also safe for dementia patients and can be used to stimulate them. Rubber balls are great for encouraging gross motor skills. Folding laundry or towels provides movement and the sensory experience of feeling the texture of the towels. Holding dolls can be comforting and create a conversation piece for the caregiver.

If you are caring for someone who suffers from dementia, providing stimulus can be as simple as including them in daily tasks.

  • When you do the dishes, seat them within sight of you. Give them a dish towel to hold. You can even give them a plastic bowl or plate to wipe. Talk with them about where the dishes came from or what made them so dirty.
  • When you are doing the laundry, give them some small pieces to fold.
  • As you pick up the house, give your loved one a box with some rounded objects and ask them to put the objects in the box.
  • Turn on music and clap to the beat together.
  • When you think about the tasks in your daily life, include your loved one (as much as is practical and safe). They will be stimulated and you may be pleasantly surprised when you discover some tiny, magical moments with them.

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