Irritability can be one of the most worrying symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. You’ve probably tried everything you could think of to bring peace to your loved one.
Keep in mind that behavior is part of the disease and a form of communication and often begins with relatively minor events, says Sam Fazio, PhD, senior director of quality care and psychosocial research at the Alzheimer’s Association.
“The person may feel uncomfortable, confused, bored, anxious, or have a basic need such as being hungry, thirsty, or needing to go to the bathroom. Because it becomes more difficult for a person with dementia to communicate their thoughts and feelings, they may behave in unpredictable ways,” he says.
It’s time to think outside the box to reduce stress.
Creativity helps aggravation of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease takes away people’s thinking, memory and communication skills. But often creativity, imagination, and emotion predominate in the middle and even late stages of the disease.
“Using art, music, or another favorite activity to stay connected with someone living with dementia can have many potential benefits,” says Fazio. they can do:
- Help with anxiety, excitement, aggression and general mood
- engage one’s brain
- engage them socially
- reduce insulation
strike the right chord
Tina Baxter, a nurse specialist in Anderson, IN, works with Alzheimer’s patients in hospitals, assisted living facilities and other settings. She knows the power of music firsthand – through the experiences of the people she cares about and her father.
Baxter’s father suffered from amnesia and dementia towards the end of his life. She was having difficulty getting out of bed and walking, and had a poor appetite.
One evening the family went to dinner at a theater production Sound of Music, a musical set in Europe around World War II. Baxter’s father served in the military and was stationed in Germany. “You can see the synapses being activated,” says Baxter. “The music is gone; He was very interested in it. He really liked it and he was very hungry!”
“It’s almost like a switch has flipped.” They brought back memories of living in Germany, meeting the people and learning the language. “The performance brought back those memories for him. He was alive and again looked like his old self.
science behind music
Music therapy cannot correct loss of brain function. But according to the American Music Therapy Association, it can make the most of what’s left.
Music is processed throughout the brain so that areas not yet affected by Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can “understand” it. It also wakes up specific pathways in the diseased brain that would otherwise “fall asleep” and stop functioning.
Whether you listen to, create, or engage in music, music can reduce agitation and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Baxter recalled a male dementia patient who was agitated and would not sit still for a physical examination. “So I started dancing with him!” she says. “We danced in the hall and I could hear his heart and lungs. He likes it!”
paint a new picture
Art can be especially helpful when a person has lost the ability to express themselves through words. Why? Language is a left brain activity. As it fades, the visual creativity of the right side can emerge unexpectedly strong.
“I’ve found that even the most restless and irritable patients can find some peace and comfort when they get a brush,” says Liban Saleh, PhD, founder and CEO of CareCompare, a home care service that operates in the UK.
He says, “In one instance I saw a man who was struggling a lot, was brought to a state of calm through painting.” “Regardless of his condition, he knew how to do it.”
She also found her grandfather’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease a positive influence. Creative outlets help with their spatial awareness, brain function and give them a sense of accomplishment.
“Activities like collage making, painting, or even simple things like music creation apps can create a new sense of purpose and connectedness in people with Alzheimer’s,” Saleh says.
Tips for Using Creativity at Home
If your crush is a music fan, try these things:
find the song in the key of their life: Sometimes playing their childhood songs can bring back long lasting happy memories. Ask them or their friends what they were like in their teens or twenties.
hit the right notes: See if they enjoy the music. Encourage them to clap or dance to the beat. On the other hand, if they sound offbeat, find some new selections.
use calming sounds: Choose some music that seems to calm them down. Play those songs when your loved one is worried or excited. This may distract them enough to calm them down.
To nurture his artistic instincts:
give them tools: Provide non-toxic paint and other supplies. Give them brush, clay etc. to make the idol and tell them what to do.
Praise the Process, Not the Project: Your loved one’s graduation project may not sound like a masterpiece. Making art is most important. Praise. Say something like, “I love all the colors you used!”
make it a conversation starter: For example, talk about the picture they are painting. Ask why it’s a dog, a cake, or something else. You might find out they had a pet as a child that they really loved, which could start a conversation. Or they remember the delicious cake of their wedding. Ask what else they remember about the day. Was there a bond? What song did he choose as his “first dance”?
key to creative success
Help your loved one find something that interests them.
Did he spend the long summer days in his garden? A recent study suggests that horticultural therapy is particularly good at improving arousal.
“You just have to meet people where they are,” says Baxter. She remembers an Alzheimer’s patient who was struggling to do something. Baxter learns that the woman once worked at an accounting firm, which she enjoyed doing.
“Every day we gave her a notepad, a pencil and a calculator, and she would write and add up numbers all day.”
music and memories
Baxter looks back fondly on her father’s final days. He was in Dharamshala and the music brought him a sense of peace and happiness. “The night he died, a volunteer from our church was there. He sang to her and she said that she had the most peaceful smile on her face.
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