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5 Tips to Encourage Wonder in Those Living with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Written by Patty Sherin
March 15, 2022
5 Tips to Encourage Wonder in Those Living with Alzheimer’s and Dementia
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Caring for another human being is hard work and extremely complicated. There are so many things you have to consider including daily chores, family responsibilities, healthcare, respite, and self-care.

Who has time to play? Or how do you encourage wonder in those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia?

First let’s define wonder. Google defines wonder as, “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.” Or as a verb, “desire or be curious to know something.”Wonder is exactly what I see in the faces of seniors living with Alzheimer’s and dementia in memory care communities when I first introduced LEGOⓇ DuploⓇ bricks and pieces to them.

This playful activity creates a bonding experience for seniors living with Alzheimer’s and Dementia and their caregivers. The majority of my clients are in the mid- to late stages of the disease. When I hand people a mini figure (LEGO people) or accessory, they aren’t sure what they are seeing at first, then they focus on the cute faces and accessories and they smile. Your job with this activity is to show them how they connect, teach them how to make silly characters, or build things they recognize and see the laughter and joy begin.

Keep in mind, you simply can’t put LEGO bricks and pieces in front of someone with Alzheimers or dementia and expect them to know what to do with it. Create a space for them to feel safe and encourage curiosity, be willing to try something new, be open-minded and vulnerable. It’s easier than it sounds. Let me explain how it works.

Step 1: Create a safe space

Get a large flat surface with plain single color cloth or single color surface. A busy tablecloth will distract from the colors and figures the bricks have to offer. The pieces will literally be lost to them. I had one community set out a LEGO tablecloth with the best of intentions but some of the residents kept trying to pick up the pieces from the tablecloth print.

Make it easy for them to see the pieces they have to choose from. Lay out all the pieces for them. Make it easy for them to see everything all at once. Remember kids will dig through a bucket to find a piece, seniors will not.

Step 2: Encourage curiosity

Music is a great way to help your caree (the person you are caring for) feel good and engage with you and this activity. Find the music they grew up listening to. It’s usually the music they listened to in their late teens, early twenties. Play this music while you introduce them to building and watch them smile, sing and possibly dance in their chairs.

Music has been shown to work very well with those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. LEGO’s innate system of play encourages curiosity and the music sets up the mood. (See our article on Music Therapy for tips.)

Step 3: Your mindset; be willing to try something new

Introducing Duplo bricks and pieces to the elderly might seem strange at first.

When I began this program in 2017, I wasn’t sure if it would work. It was a huge success! The administrators from various communities would tell me their residents were happier even days after our activity ended. Most asked me to come back on a weekly basis.

I recommend doing this activity at least once a week. We found that the people we worked with found a sense of purpose, meaning and agency from building. It gave them the ability to express themselves. Some build towers, others build with one color or sort the pieces into colors or like pieces, and others would fill baseplates, decorate buildings or scenes with people and animals.

For inspiration check out #MyFavoriteDuplo on my Instagram (@MoBrickz) or TikTok (@BrickByBrickBonding) to see my favorite pieces when working with seniors living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Two tips for caregivers

Tip 1: Be open-minded

Unconscious bias is a real thing. Some people think that a child’s toy or playing is somehow ageist. I respectfully disagree. I believe playing is how we express ourselves and figure out the world around us.

Those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia who struggle to find the right words can use an activity like this to create a sense of wonder again. People who are 80 and above might not be familiar with LEGO bricks and pieces and that’s okay.

I can help you find the right kit and introduce this activity to your loved one. You too can gain a sense of wonder building with LEGO bricks and pieces if you stay open-minded and see all the possibilities LEGO building has to offer.

Tip 2: Be vulnerable

The beauty of building with LEGO bricks and pieces is that there is no right or wrong when building. Putting two pieces together is a success. I’ve had many carees try to put the pieces together backwards. I used to correct them and it made them anxious and angry. Instead give them space to keep trying. I have found that most people don’t give up. Sometimes, they might put a piece down and try another piece or they simply keep trying. I admire that so much!

It’s especially satisfying to see someone struggle for a few minutes and then figure it out. I usually exclaim, “Yay! You figured out how the pieces fit together, congratulations! You did a good job!” This always brings a smile to their face. Who doesn’t like to be praised when we find a solution to a problem?

Brick By Brick Bonding™ was created to help caregivers and their carees find joy and wonder. This revolutionary activity gives those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia meaning, purpose, and agency. Create a safe space to add joy to you and your caree’s life, add your loved one’s favorite music to encourage curiosity. Be willing to try something new to find your sense of wonder, be open-minded and try new things, and be vulnerable because you never know what amazing connections you will make.

You are never too old to play. You are never too young to create.” – Patty Sherin

Prior to the pandemic Patty worked with Memory Care Communities. She shares what she’s learned with family caregivers. As a Certified Caregiver Consultant and creator of Brick By Brick Bonding™ she understands the fatigues and challenges that caregivers and has found strategies to help throughout the caregiving journey.

Follow us on Instagram – @mobrickz, Twitter – @mo_brickz, TikTok – @BrickByBrickBonding or visit https://mobrickz.com

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About the author: Patty Sherin is a lover of the brick. Patty shares her love of LEGOⓇ bricks with kids, adults and seniors to develop their creativity and express themselves. Patty encourages seniors living with dementia to build with LEGO bricks to bring out joy and laughter.

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