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Positive Risk-Taking

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Posted on 2nd June 2015.

Imagine losing it all – driving, finances, choice of residence, even the decision of what clothing you’re going to wear. That’s the reality for many elders in the late stages of dementia – but things don’t have to be so negative. In fact, many patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s can see real benefit from a degree of positive risk-taking.

Sandwich family

Wait A Sec. Positive Risk-Taking?

The number-one fear that families of these patients have is that “something” is going to happen. Most think of their loved ones tripping and falling, but it could also involve forgetting to take medication, losing memories of who they’re talking to, or any of the other effects of dementia.

In these circumstances, it’s understandable that families would want to avoid as many risks as possible – but the only true way to avoid risk is to do nothing at all. Many individuals in the early stages of dementia still retain the cognitive ability to recognize this, and their concern over the progression of the disease (and its effects on their life) are thought to be a contributing factor in suicide rates.

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that when we say “risk-taking”, we don’t mean “acting like a teenager”. There’s a distinct difference between stupid risks and smart risks – and we only advocate taking smart risks. Even better, advances in technology mean that more and more activities are becoming safe for seniors to do.

Okay, So What Are Some Of These Smart Risks?

In many cases, the best thing for patients experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s is getting outside and doing something. You can only stay on the couch and watch television for so many hours a day before you start getting bored and wanting to do something else – no matter what your age actually is.

One of the best activities is taking a walk along a designated path. Most towns and cities have a number of smooth, well-maintained trails that seniors can easily traverse, especially when they have something to help prop them up. Just walking beside gardens and trees can help refresh their mind, exercise their body, and soothe away some of the stress that dementia and Alzheimer’s can cause.
Another good course of action is getting involved with classes and activities. These provide a degree of regularity and something to look forward to on a regular basis, and they typically remain an effective tool until memory loss is so bad that the patients are no longer able to recall such activities. Classes can take many forms – some patients prefer to use their hands, while others use their whole bodies, but all of them tend to allow for a degree of socialising.

As far as fitness goes, though, few things are better than getting into a swimming pool. Swimming is a rare, no-impact form of exercise that’s often suitable for even the oldest and most brittle bones – and something as straightforward as carefully walking down the pool and back can provide a degree of whole-body exercise that seniors often lack.

There’s a small amount of risk with anything that a person suffering from dementia or Alzeheimer’s does – this is a sad, unavoidable fact of the disease. However, regular exercise (both physical and mental) will often help to reduce the impact of the disease and allow the patient to remain happier for a longer amount of time – and at this point in their lives, it’s often the best thing that can be done.

It’s best to start this process as early as possible – many patients are horribly afraid of losing their happiness and independence, so knowing that they still have plenty of things to look forward to can mitigate the negative effects of a diagnosis and allow for a happier, healthier ending.

Thank you to Felicity Dryer, contributor.

Sally Tomkotowicz