Originally published on cristaweb.com, the online intranet for CRISTA Ministries.

In our memory care neighborhoods, we work to incorporate activities that stimulate cognitive processes and offer at least short-term gains in cognitive functioning for our residents. One game we frequently employ is the word scramble. We pick a word, in keeping with the seasons, the holidays, or programming themes at large in Senior Living (such as Live Well), and we try to come up with as many additional words as possible, using just the letters from our original word. This is done just using the white board and dry erase markers—very simple!

I gather residents in a group and we just begin brainstorming. It inevitably ends up being one of our most participated and enjoyed activities, and much of that has to do with the social aspect of problem solving in a group. Just like in any other group, the shared wisdom of our cognitively challenged residents becomes evident as they spur each other’s memories in the interaction. We have the chance to laugh together and residents are able to feel the small successes of generating a word that gets written on the board- a small, but immediate reward. Residents end up sharing past knowledge or expertise with the group as their memories are triggered. As the Activities Coordinator for Memory Care, this one always feeds my soul. It builds self-esteem in our residents while it works the brain, and residents inevitably go away from it saying, “That was fun!”

The one truly beautiful thing about this activity is that it is one that caregivers and passers-by in the neighborhoods will also enter into, and that brings a lot of joy to the residents. It’s the community building aspect of it—we are all here, gathering around them and in it with them. This past week, we used this activity to introduce to our residents a new volunteer who will be joining Poplar Place on Wednesdays. She participated and fit seamlessly into the group. This activity checks off at least three boxes for the target goals we try to hit in Memory Care: socialization, creativity and thinking—cognitive recall. What makes it a staple of our weekly activities is really the high level or participation by residents in this activity, and that it’s just a whole lot of fun for all of us.

When creating an activity, we try to hit as many areas as possible in Memory Care: thinking, physical, social, creative, ADL’s—and even seemingly simple activities can provide short-term cognitive benefits, improve mood states and increase night-time rest for residents, according to the World Alzheimer’s Report (2011). So that’s the WHY behind what we do, if you need that also. We do many simple activities in Memory Care, but we do them with a great amount of purpose and love.

Submitted by Aloma Jackson, Memory Care Activities Coordinator