When someone recently asked a group of people living with Alzheimer’s disease what leisure meant to them, they mentioned several experiences that gave meaning to their lives and made them feel fully alive.

They say that meaningful leisure activities are important because they:

– Provide an opportunity to laugh, have fun and enjoy life.
– Provide a sense of freedom from life‘s stresses.
– Allow people to express and be themselves.
– Help them to find balance.
– Connect people with friends and family.
– Help them to make contributions to their community.
– Provide opportunities to develop, grow and feel challenged.

Try not to let anxiety, fear of being judged, low self-confidence or frustration about keeping up with others deter you from enjoying leisure activities. You should focus on doing your own thing – whether it entails meditating, reading, playing with your grandchildren, looking through old photo albums or listening to some of your favourite music.

Remember that it’s not about frantically trying to keep busy all the time. If you don’t balance activities with enough relaxation, life could become stressful.

Unsure about pursuing an activity? Here are some great ideas to get you started:

– Ask yourself what activities are most important to you and best reflect who you are as a person.

– Find things to do that provide stimulation but are not too lengthy or difficult.

– Accept that you may gradually need to adapt activities even though you have learnt certain skills and abilities over many years.

– Avoid over-structuring each day with loads of activities. If you feel overstimulated, take a break.

– Activities like volunteering provide a real sense of purpose and value when you make a difference to those around you. Identify a cause you are passionate about and offer your services. For example, you may love animals and want to donate some time to a local animal welfare organisation.

– Share special time with young people and grandchildren. That could mean a host of enjoyable activities such as attending their sporting events, playing games, singing, dancing, having a picnic or a fun cooking/baking session.

– Make a point of spending quality time with people you trust and who won‘t patronise or over-help you.

– Find out about social groups in your area and consider joining them.

– Don’t be afraid to try something new. For example, you could try to learn how to play a musical instrument or join a drumming class.

– Ask someone to help you to learn how to use a computer. E-mail and social media platforms such as Facebook are a wonderful way to stay connected with people.

– Focus on what you can do now, in the moment. Try not to be concerned about what other people think.

– Caring for a pet such as a dog can be very rewarding. An added bonus is taking your dog for a daily walk.

– If you’re a creative person, look at ways of expressing yourself through painting, poetry or simply keeping a journal of your thoughts.

– Mentally stimulating activities such as reading, writing crossword puzzles, card games and scrabble are a good option. A recent study published in Neurology found that engaging in activities that stimulate the brain can help preserve memory as people get older. According to study author Dr Robert S. Wilson, PhD from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, exercising your brain by taking part in these types of activities throughout a person’s lifetime is important for brain health in old age.

– Yes, it’s difficult to try and remain positive and optimistic every day. Practise positive self-reinforcement and take small steps each day, one at a time.

– Lastly, remember that laughing is still the best medicine. Laughter and fun help you to stay positive and maintain a fresh perspective.

Benefits of brain training
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore USA have found that brief mental training sessions have long-lasting benefits for cognition and everday function in older people.

According to a recent study published the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, older adults who received as few as 10 sessions of mental (cognitive) training showed improved reasoning ability and speed of processing when compared with untrained participants as long as a decade after the intervention.

These improvements were even more significant for people who had additional booster sessions over the next three years.

Lead author Dr George Rebok says the study indicates that a fairly modest intervention in practising mental skills can have relatively long-term effects beyond what might be reasonably expected.

He comments that the findings support the development of other interventions for seniors, especially those that focus on cognitive abilities that show the most rapid ageing-related decline. These interventions could possibly delay the onset of difficulties in everyday functioning and independence.

Sources:
1. www.livingwithdementia.uwaterloo.ca
2. “Ten-Year Effects of the ACTIVE Cognitive Training Trial on Cognition and Everyday Functioning in Older Adults”, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2014; DOI:10.1111/jgs.12607
3. www.alzheimers.org.za
4. “Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging” Robert S. Wilson, PhD, Patricia A. Boyle, PhD, Lei Yu, PhD, Lisa L. Barnes, PhD, Julie A. Schneider, MD and David A. Bennett, MD

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