Encourage physical movement
Exercise has been shown to relax the mind, increase the ability to communicate, and therefore allow for greater emotional connection to take place—plus, it’s a great stress reliever for caregivers, too. “The emotional high from the feel-good endorphin released during brisk activity can help make your time together both positive and healthy,” says Holbrook. “A walk around the block, a tandem bike ride or enjoying a yoga class together can help release some of the anxiety that both of you may be feeling surrounding the disease.” Take some time to notice the things that make your family member unique during these activities. The way she always slows down to look at the peonies or the way he adjusts his hat four to five times in an hour. It can also help you both have positive, bonding time together without the pressure of too much conversation.
Incorporate the five senses into your activities
“Listening to a familiar song, tasting something sweet, touching a pet, or watching something bright and colorful takes the expectation of the past out of the equation and allows new memories with positive emotional connections to form,” says Hornthal. “As humans we crave affection and touch, so don’t hesitate to lend your loved one a hand to hold. If he reaches out and grabs your hand, an immediate emotional connection is created.” Just remember to take your cues from the person with Alzheimer’s disease and never force touch where it might not be warranted. As the disease progresses, you may find that using touch more frequently than words helps keep the relationship strong. “Most people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease are only being touched for hygiene, medical exams, etc., so holding hands in an intimate, appropriate way, like brushing their hair or giving them a massage or manicure, are easy ways to connect without words.”
Stick to living in the moment
Taking the moment for what it is and the individual for who she or he is takes away assumptions and expectations and allows for genuine connection. Try and avoid initiating “normal” conversations with a loved one who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. “Asking Mom how her day went or asking your friend what she had for lunch can be very frustrating for both you and the patient, as she might try and answer your question but not have the right words, or get angry that you’re asking her questions that make her feel inadequate,” says FitzPatrick.