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Isolated at home? Some ideas for staying active and well.

The ‘stay at home’ directive to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is causing additional stress for family carers. With severe restrictions to the services that community organisations can now provide, families are having to draw on their own resources to remain active and well during this difficult time.

If you are isolated at home, the days can seem long.

Here are some ideas for coping in these difficult times:

  1. Try to break the day up with a structure: Creating a structure to your day will help you to pace the time and build in activities to look forward to, including eating regular meals, going outside for a walk or into the garden, taking part in a joint activity or game, listening to music, watching TV, talking to friends and family. Caring for a relative with dementia can be unpredictable, making it difficult to do the same thing every day at a consistent time. But having a routine and some goals can help create a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
  2. Take advantage of the opportunity to exercise: The Government’s guidance permits people to go out to take one form of exercise each day. The weather has been lovely these last few days, being outside in fresh air has many physical and psychological benefits. Keeping our bodies moving is important for bone strength and muscle tone and and for generally staying fit and well. If you are able to go out for a walk with your relative, try to engage them in an activity, for example, gathering different grasses and wild-flowers, listening out for sounds of nature, a game of I-spy.
  3. Make use of your garden (if you have one): Occupy your relative in the garden with simple gardening activities, such as digging, planting seeds, weeding. Work to their strengths. People with dementia often struggle with complex sequencing tasks and may find it difficult to ‘see the whole picture’, but with encouragement and support, they can carry out discrete tasks and gain a lot of fulfilment from doing so.
  4. Eat healthy food: Fresh fruit and vegetables are essential for our physical and psychological wellbeing and for maintaining a robust immune system. Involve your relative in choosing foods to eat and preparing and serving meals. Make meals interesting with ingredients of varying colours and encourage conversations about tastes, textures and smells. This can be an enjoyable activity that enables people living with dementia to experience a sense of purpose and contribution.
  5. Find indoor activities that you can do together: There are lots of activities designed to stimulate the brain, such as word and number games, jigsaw puzzles; and artistic activities, such as painting, dance, music. Creating a playlist of tunes that you both enjoy can be a relaxing way to spend time together and prompt memories of significant times in your lives. Or you could create a life-story book for yourself and the person you care for, gathering pictures and documenting memories, or a memory box filled with special mementos and favourite things.
  6. Allow time for rest: Find ways to wind down together. This might be as simple as watching a favourite comedy show on TV or spending time reading a book or a magazine.
  7. Keep in touch with family and friends: Strict guidance from the Government urging us to stay at home and away from other people, has meant that families are temporarily separated from each other. In your daily routine, schedule in time to make contact with family members and friends, whether by phone or by using an on-line platform such as skype or facetime. Maintaining social contact is vital to keep relationships alive and to ensure that people with dementia continue to be connected with those who matter most to them. In particular, try to involve younger members of the family. Seeing grandchildren and great grandchildren can give older people and people with dementia a huge boost, particularly at this difficult time. Children can be encouraged to send postcards, pictures, their own drawings/paintings and letters. The post service is still operating, let’s make the most of it!
  8. Maintain regular sleep routines: Sleep is vital for healing the brain. Consistent routines at bedtime and in the morning make deep restful sleep more achievable. Closing curtains or blinds at night-time and creating a dark environment, and allowing exposure to bright light in the morning, helps to maintain the body’s circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle).

Everyone’s situation is different. The key is to work out what is right for you and to use strategies that enable you to cope with your unique circumstances. Dementia is a progressive condition, what works this week might not be effective next week. Within the confines of the coronavirus pandemic, we have to use what resources we have available to us and do the best we can in what will be a time-limited period.

For tips and suggestions and to share your experiences, please join our Facebook Dementia Support Group.

Some useful links:

Engaging Dementia has a set of downloadable dementia friendly activity sheets

Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) provides guidance on keeping people with dementia active and occupied

Playlist for Life encourages the creation of personalised playlists for people with dementia

BBC Music Memories helping people reconnect with their most powerful memories

Gareth Malone’s ‘at home’ choir bringing together self-isolating singers 

To help people who are isolated at home during the coming weeks, local ‘hubs’ are being created to provide essential supplies, deliveries of medicines and other assistance. If you need information about how to contact your local hub, please get in touch. I’ll be happy to help. Contact me at: barbara@livebetterwith.com