As summer comes to an end, back to school supplies begin to fill the store shelves and children try to make the most of their last few weeks of freedom. With the hustle and bustle of a new school year, we may not have as much time to spend with our Best Friend. This can create feelings of loneliness and isolation from the rest of the family. However, there are many ways to include your Best Friend as you transition into the fall season.
A new school year also marks the start of fall sports beginning again. Soccer, football, tennis and volleyball are just a few sports we have to look forward to. If you have a child, niece, or nephew playing this season, bring your Best Friend along to enjoy the game with you. Cheering on a family member together as they score a goal or spike the ball over the net is a great way to foster an inclusive environment for your loved one. This would also be a great time for you to talk with your Best Friend about sports they like or played as a child. Some questions you might ask are, “Do you like football or tennis the most?” or “Did you ever coach a team?” Creating a conversation gives him/her the opportunity to share stories and stay engaged.
In The Best Friend™ Book of Alzheimer’s Activities Volume One, Virginia Bell, M.S.W and David Troxel, M.P.H. explain how children allow us to cut loose and even be silly. Watching children play and laugh can provide rich sensory stimulation for your loved one. Therefore, if you find yourself watching six year olds kick the soccer ball in the wrong direction on Saturday mornings, laugh and enjoy the silliness with your Best Friend. Or if you are attending a high school football game on a Friday evening, make it a family event. Bring the whole family with you. Together you can make signs to cheer on the team, grab some snacks and enjoy the game.
However, if you feel that a sporting event might be too much excitement for your Best Friend, bring the fun to him/her. Do not be afraid to engage in athletic activities with your loved one. A study by neuroscientist Art Kramer, Ph.D., who directs the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, suggested that exercise is the best thing you can do for your brain. Dr. Kramer scanned the brains of 120 older adults. He found that the half that started a program of moderate aerobic exercise had an increase in brain volume. An increase in brain volume can translate to better memory (How Exercise And Other Activities Beat Back Dementia, NPR, April 15, 2013). Try playing catch with breaks every few minutes or if balance is a struggle for your loved one, have them sit in a chair while you toss a ball to them. If playing catch does not interest your Best Friend, go on a nature walk and collect different color leaves or assist your Best Friend on the golf driving range.
By helping your Best Friend stay active, it not only helps you stay connected but also helps utilize the person’s remaining strengths and abilities. This is an important aspect to consider with Falls Prevention Awareness Day (sponsored by the National Council on Aging) occurring on September 23rd. What a great reminder and time of year to be involved with your Best Friend™, implement the Best Friends™ Approach and reduce falls in your community.