Activities for Seniors Living with Dementia During COVID-19 holidays

February 9, 2021

We are fast approaching the one year anniversary of the date when the covid-19 pandemic affected our lives in North America. It was in mid-March of last year that the world, as we knew it, suddenly changed and our new ‘normal’ began.

With public health precautions/ measures thrust upon us, we were forced to find other ways to celebrate special occasions and holidays. Perhaps no holiday will symbolize our new reality quite like Valentine’s day.

Valentine’s day is the day of showing love and affection to those special people in our lives. It is a day that traditionally involves affectionate touch, hugs, hand-delivered cards, gifts, and sharing meals. It’s about breaking the distance that results from living in a fast-paced modern society.  Imagining Valentine’s day without these special ‘touches’ is difficult. However, imagine it we must as the pandemic continues to surge forth.

While admittedly challenging, it is not impossible to show our love for one another while at a distance. We simply need to employ some creativity to make this day special, particularly for those loved ones who are currently house-bound or physically distancing from others. Using teleconferencing technology is one of the ways we can invite our loved ones directly into our homes.

We encourage our readers to review our previous article ‘Ways to Connect and Keep Your Loved Ones Near while at a Distance’ for ideas and suggestions on how to create care packages for your senior loved ones and additional activities to include them in your daily life using telephone and teleconferencing.  

Activities to celebrate Valentine’s day with your senior loved one while at a distance

Watch Movies and Programs together via Telephone or Teleconferencing

Perhaps the most affordable way to enjoy this fun activity together, while apart, is to select a movie playing on television and have yourself and your loved one view it simultaneously. You can call one another after the movie or during the commercial breaks to discuss. Alternatively, you and your loved one can enable your speakerphone feature and talk to one another throughout the movie.

You can also watch a favourite DVD movie or DVD program together. Purchase two copies of the DVD and send one to your loved one via a care package. You also have the option of streaming a movie or program via the internet. Arrange a time to view the DVD simultaneously using the telephone or speakerphone methods described above.

Tip for better viewing

It may prove somewhat tricky but try to synchronise your and your loved one’s viewing time as perfectly as possible to prevent a sound feedback (echo) effect. You can do this by cuing your start times so you both begin playing the movie/program at exactly the same time. If unable to do this, then it is preferable to call one another at various points through the movie or program to discuss.

Besides watching movies there are a number of specialty programs available via the internet on YouTube. These can be streamed and played on your computer for free. Please view our guide following this article for some suggestions regarding good programs available to watch in the areas of travel, history, jewellery collections, virtual museums, gardening, cooking, and music concerts.

There are also some television program packages that offer collective viewing options whereby members from different households can watch television programs simultaneously and communicate with one another via teleconferencing at the same time. You can inquire about these viewing options through your service provider. One that has been advertised of late is Sling view party.

A Special Way to Send and Share Flowers: Flower Time

Perhaps nothing can brighten one’s spirits quite like receiving a bouquet of flowers in the middle of a long, cold winter. The burst of colour during a lack-lustre time is sure to bring a smile to your loved one’s face. As an added bonus, the vibrant colours of an assorted flower bouquet can really pop against the continually white snow backdrop just beyond our windows.

The ideal way to share this activity is to purchase two similar bouquets, one for yourself and one for your loved one. Through teleconferencing you can share the magical experience of enjoying the flowers together. Tending to flowers or plants are a perfect activity for seniors to enjoy as it simultaneously engages the visual, tactile and olfactory senses. Bouquets with multiple types of flowers and greenery work particularly well for this activity. Focus on enjoying the colours, the differing hues and patterns of individual petals, the soft sensual feel of the petals as well as the fragrance.

On a daily basis you can both water, feed, cut the stems and rearrange the flowers. Tending to  flowers and plants together can be a great way to stimulate the senses and encourage conversation.

Make a Valentine in Real-Time or via Pre-recorded Video

Many of us can recall the time honoured tradition of preparing and sending Valentine’s day cards to our friends as children. We can recapture this nostalgic moment and even improve upon it by creating our Valentine’s day cards to one another via teleconferencing. Simply enclose the necessary materials for the activity or craft in a care package and ensure your loved one receives it prior to the activity.

Art activities involve multiple steps and multi-tasking abilities. If your senior loved one has physical and or neurological impairments it is advised that you arrange to have a trusted friend or caregiver present to assist your loved one. This ensures their focus, safety and enjoyment.

Alternatively, they may enjoy watching you and other family members complete a Valentine’s day card or other art project via teleconferencing. You can then send your loved one the finished card or project following the activity.

If teleconferencing is difficult to coordinate due to lack of time or available assistance, another option is to pre-record yourself and your children preparing the Valentine cards and send this video via e-mail to your senior loved one.

This works well when sending cards and other art projects, at any time of year, to your senior loved ones with memory difficulties. This way they can joyfully re-experience the moment at anytime.

Considerations when involving your loved ones, living with middle to late-stage dementia and other neurological conditions via teleconferencing

For the purposes of this article the modifications for activities listed above apply to individuals experiencing middle to late term dementia or when they have reduced ability to actively participate.  You and your loved one’s healthcare team are the ideal people to gage what stage of dementia they are experiencing as well as what they are able to engage in or contribute.  It is best to consult with all involved before planning any activities listed in this article. As well, when possible, it is important to seek input from your loved one regarding any activities you wish to include them in via teleconferencing. This can help towards increasing their level of interest and engagement.

Plan activities earlier in the day as individuals living with dementia become more fatigued and can experience increased levels of confusion by evening, a condition known as ‘sun-downing’. It is ideal to plan activities that are shorter in length and have fewer people to ensure increased levels of alertness as well as social engagement. Large groups of people can be overwhelming, even intimidating for many people, including those with dementia, who may experience difficulties remembering people, their names and their prior relationships.

When selecting content for the activities consider using materials (e.g., music, movies, programs, photographs, objects, traditions and foods) that date back to earlier periods in your loved one’s life. Individuals with dementia have a better recall of events and objects from earlier times in their lives. Subject matter from later decades may not be remembered as easily.

In middle to later stages of the condition individuals may have reduced ability to self regulate their moods. As such, when discussing past events or selecting programs, movies and music to share, it’s important to keep such material upbeat and positive.

When you plan an activity, break it down into smaller more manageable steps. It’s important not to do more than one thing at a time. For instance, if you are sharing an activity that involves eating food, separate the ‘eating’ time from the ‘talking’ time. It is difficult for individuals with dementia to multi-task so taking time to truly enjoy each step of the activity will enhance the overall experience. It also increases one’s safety as they only have to attend to one aspect of the activity at a time.

Perhaps the most important consideration when planning activities, with your loved one with dementia, is their safety. Many late stage and some middle stage individuals with dementia will require monitoring and assistance from a healthcare aide (HCA) or other trusted carer when participating in said activities. It is important to assess your loved ones abilities and arrange help according to their specific needs beforehand. 

In our previous article ‘Ways to Connect and Keep Your Loved One’s Near while at a Distance’ we have prepared a list of additional activities along adaptations to consider when planning for your loved one living with dementia and/or other neurological conditions. Please review them to ensure your loved one remains safe and engaged throughout each activity. In the beginning of the process, it may prove awkward to connect with our seniors using teleconferencing and social media. Our previous article offers suggestions as to how to plan, prepare and facilitate such visits.

The activities in this and our previous article are meant to be a starting point toward promoting conversation and establishing regular routines.  It can be difficult to know what to say or how to engage a person after spending so much time apart. These activities can be used to break the ice and increase the level of comfort for all involved. They, furthermore, allow for all participants to become familiar with using teleconferencing technology as a means of connection.

Planning is especially key when including your senior loved one, especially those living with dementia and neurological conditions. However, putting forth the effort in advance will afford you the opportunity to spend enhanced quality time with your loved one. In this way, you are ‘gifting’ yourself and others with the ability to be fully ‘present’ in the moment.  The best Valentine a person can receive.

Harmony Caregiving Guide to Movies and Special Interest Programs to Share with Loved Ones via Teleconferencing. 

This list is by no means exhaustive, simply a staring point for consideration. 

Movies for Valentine’s Day

Chocolat  

Sound of Music

Shadowlands 

Howard’s End

Downton Abbey (the television series)

Movies to be enjoyed by families with children

Cinderella

Beauty and the Beast

Specialty programs

A number of specialty programs spanning a wide breadth of topics can be found at the public library and via the internet. Many programs can be accessed for free by using YouTube.  

Once on YouTube you can type either the subject matter or name of the program you’re interested in viewing in the search bar and a number of options will pop up on your screen from which to select. It will also show you how long each video clip or program is in length. 

Here are some that we have researched or viewed that relate well to Valentine’s Day. We have sorted them by subject matter. If there is a link present, you simply have to click on it to view the content immediately. 

Please note that YouTube is much like a digital library resource. It has a very wide variety of programming, some of it good and some bad.  We strongly recommend that you view the content yourself prior to sharing any of the selected programs with your loved one. 

Historic Documentaries/ Dramas

Very few people know that Queen Victoria was quite a romantic. This drama documentary shares her innermost thoughts and little known information about her life and love for Prince Albert, her beloved husband. 

Victoria and Albert: The Love Story: Part 1 

Victoria and Albert: The Royal Wedding: Part 2.

Gardening

Monty Don: the secret history of the British Garden 

(a four part excellent series which not only reviews the history of gardens but also tours these fantastic colourful escapes) 

Part 1

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WRIkk2iaxio

Part 2

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=L6dEmJOnJvI

Part 3 is unavailable

Part 4 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NeOLuqMIRN8

Monty Don: Around the World in 80 Gardens.

a multi episode series on YouTube. 

Episode 1:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cMcb8gXC8Cs

Other Monty Don series can also be found on YouTube. Simply enter his name in the search box to find all his programs. 

Travel documentaries

Type the name Rick Steves in the YouTube search box to access a variety of excellent travel shows from around the world. 

If you type in the search box ‘Rick Steves romantic Europe’ a huge selection of tours well suited to Valentine’s Day will appear. 

Here are some good ones to check out. 

Germany’s romantic Rhine and Rothenberg

Salzburg and surroundings 

Tour of Versailles 

Rick Steve’s Norway’s West Fjords, Mountains and Bergen 

Norway – Land of the Fjords

France’s Loire: Chateau country

Enter in ‘Rick Steves England’ in the YouTube search box to view a variety of tourism videos about various parts of the United Kingdom. Here are some good ones. 

London: Historic and Dynamic

London: Mod and trad

England’s Cornwall

Food

On YouTube type in the search box the type of cuisine you are interested in learning more about and a number of viewing options will appear. 

Here are a few that caught our attention for Valentine’s Day. 

Must Visit Cake Cafes in London

Best Pastry Shops in Paris

Best Chocolate: London Tour Finest

Gordon Ramsey’s  Guide to Chocolate

Dancing

Enter the search term ‘Ballroom dancing’ or any type of dance you are interested in viewing in the YouTube search box and you will see a vast selection of videos, dancing lessons and professional dance competitions. 

Music concerts

On YouTube enter in the name of an artist or type of music you are interested in along with the word ‘concert’ and a variety of performances will pop up on your screen. 

For example:

Charlotte Church concerts

will lead you to a list of her concerts available for immediate viewing online. 

PS: Charlotte Church’s concert from Cardiff Wales is a wonderful listening and viewing experience. 

Virtual museum tours

Masterpieces from the National Gallery of London.

Take a tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. 

Treasures of the Louvre by BBC

Famous jewellery collections

Enter ‘Crown Jewel collections’ in search box and multiple short videos and documentaries appear to watch. 

The Royal Jewels: Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Mary, Princess Diana. BBC documentary

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