Seniors keep active to slow Alzheimer’s
By Karen Caffarini For Sun-Times Media
Keeping active: Residents, such as Mona Davis (right), at Rittenhouse Senior Living of Portage are encouraged to stay busy with a slew of activities, including painting the nails of staff member Kayla Wilken. | Supplied photo
Life is often fun and games for people with Alzheimer’s, or other forms of dementia, at Rittenhouse Senior Living of Portage.
If the seniors aren’t playing a game of cards or doing a word-search at the facility that opened about 1½ years ago, they could be found playing with a ball or balloons, or making a craft, all to keep their brain and body active, according to two caretakers for residents at the site.
“Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease; you can’t stop it. But we can try to improve their quality of life while we have them,” said Amanda Elkins, Rittenhouse’s director of memory care, said of the residents.
Director of nursing, Lisa Davenport, said those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease should exercise their brain, whether by reading, doing crossword puzzles or other mind-stimulating activities — and keep their body active.
“We find those most likely to get Alzheimer’s are more depressed and don’t do much activity,” Davenport said.
Elkins said many of Rittenhouse’s activities and exercises are done in a group setting, usually with about five or six people, giving the residents social interaction as well. She said the activities are done on a volunteer basis.
She said in one activity, the Alzheimer’s residents make a big circle in a pool and exercise the top portion of their bodies with “noodles,” balls or balloons.
“They like any activity with a ball. They laugh a lot and aren’t anxious. They open up to each other when you have an activity that they like,” Elkins said.
The seniors can also do crafts, usually picking out the glitzier accents such as glitter and stickers. Elkins said some prefer to put their artwork in their room while others like to have it hung up in the common areas for everyone to see.
Others like to engage in crossword puzzles, regular puzzles, card games, dominoes and other games, which Elkins said can help to slow the deterioration of the mind that occurs with Alzheimer’s, making those afflicted eventually unable to perform everyday tasks.
Elkins said they like to make the games as repetitious as possible, pointing out that studies show repetition is key to helping the patients.
“Some can remember card games really well. Others remember doing puzzles as young adults,” said Elkins, who added that the games are played at different levels according to each person’s capabilities.
Rittenhouse also incorporates music in a lot of daily activities, especially at meal times, Elkins said. Visitors and residents will hear a lot of 1940s and ‘50s music, songs by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and other popular crooners of the time when many of the residents were young adults. Once a month during the summer the residents also can go to Portage Park to listen to music.
Another way Rittenhouse keeps residents alert and gives them a sense of purpose is to incorporate their past career lives into the daily activities in some way. Elkins said one woman worked as a teacher.
“Now she comes to the desk and sorts papers. It keeps her busy and she can handle the work,” Elkins said.
Another resident previously worked as a letter carrier. He gets to walk outside for a little while every day, just as he did on his job.
“Our residents have the option to be continuously busy, but that option isn’t for everyone,” Elkins said.
Davenport said a lot has happened in the last few years regarding Alzheimer’s research that enables doctors and caregivers to better grasp what works to help prolong the quality of life for those with the disease and what doesn’t. She said while there is no diet geared specifically for those with various forms of dementia, the caregivers at Rittenhouse try to stress healthy, balanced diets.
There are four medications on the market that can help slow the progression of dementia, and there is another in clinical trials that holds promise. However, Davenport said she is unaware of any vitamins that can help prevent or treat the disease.
Determining who is at risk for the disease is another issue researchers are working on.
Davenport said people with relatives who have been diagnosed with dementia may be slightly more at risk than others, but it is not a definite. Early onset dementia is even harder to project, she said. For instance, there was a man in his mid-30s at the facility who had early onset dementia even though no one in his family had been diagnosed with the disease.
“It could be misdiagnosed for years because no one expects dementia at that young of an age,” she said.
The National Football League and neurology community also are paying more attention to a possible correlation between brain injuries and memory loss, spurred by players who had been hit hard in their playing years and are now having memory issues.