Physical Activity is a Great Occupier of Time for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s
|The author’s father in law shoveling dirt|
My father-in-law had always been this kind of free spirit who would awake in the morning with a handful of activities that would keep him busy for almost half the day. Often he would drive over to the open field near our home to hit golf balls for a couple of hours, or the local golf course to play 18 holes of golf and gather with fellow seniors. Other times he would walk two miles to and from the grocery store to buy the Chicago Tribune, and stop by the local university to visit with old colleagues. But Alzheimer’s often erases various activities from the person’s memory and leaves them with a 16-hour day (discounting sleep) that they or their caregiver must fill with something more productive than sitting in front of the television set.
When memory loss robs the person of their ability to retain information and makes it extremely difficult and frustrating to read or engage in various memory-demanding activities, physical activity in any form can be that great ‘occupier’ of time. When my father was alive and in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, I used to bring a small rubber ball home and we would play catch for 15 to 20 minutes in the same way that we did when I was a youngster. But now it was my turn trying to trick him with fancy throws over my head or between my legs. The smile that came across his face while reaching for that small pink rubber ball is something that I’ll always cherish. He loved baseball as a kid and still loved it as an adult with Alzheimer’s.
The value of physical activity for someone dealing with significant memory loss is that it keeps them connected to themselves and their loved ones. The quality moments in my father-in-law’s day are his morning exercise routine, the short walk around the block with the dog, and performing various gardening activities now that the weather is better. When activities such as reading and writing are no longer options for occupying a few hours of the day, replacing them with sundry physical activities is essential for reducing sedentary behaviors such as long bouts of sitting or napping. The daily physical activity routines that keep my father-in-law engaged is a wonderful way for him to spend part of his day. As many caregivers who take care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s know, there is that constant struggle to find activities that keep the person socially connected. Physical activity in any form is a great ‘occupier of time,’ not only from the standpoint of maintaining strong and pliant muscles, but more importantly, for giving the individual a sense of connectedness to others and to themselves.