As dementia progresses, your loved one’s attention span and concentration will decrease — resulting in being distracted easily and difficulties focusing. By engaging your loved one in certain cognitive exercises, you can increase attention span and the ability to concentrate, one bit at a time.

If your loved one is suffering from dementia, you may notice that focusing on a certain task is challenging — a loud noise may completely dismantle the completion of a household chore, such as making the bed, or focusing on completing a puzzle may simply not be in the cards. The following exercises may help your loved one increase the cognitive function required to maintain some level of attention span and concentration:

Exercise #1: Create a set of opposite cards. For example, one would have an image of fire, the other with ice. One the image of a dog, the other, a cat — and so on. Shuffle the cards and lay the images out on a table, ensuring the opposite sets are visible. Ask your loved one to physically match the sets based on opposites. Next, re-shuffle the cards, and hold one up at a time (for example, the fire card). Make a statement like, “If this is hot, the opposite would be what?” Ask your loved one to choose the correct opposite card from the deck of remaining cards.

Exercise #2: Create a set of color and shape cards, and begin a homemade game of Concentration. Lay out the set of cards, face up, in front of your loved one, and have him or her study the location of the cards for about one minute. Turn the cards face down, and then ask your loved one to find the matches based on their memory of the card locations.

As you’re working with your loved one on these exercises, carefully monitor the amount of time s/he spends on each activity before becoming distracted and requiring redirection. The goal is to have your loved one maintain, if not improve, their time over the course of your sessions. If you must redirect your loved one in order to help them remain on task, simply restate the original directions, or offer to demonstrate the activity for clarification. Remember to use clear and positive communication skills, and work within your loved one’s abilities and tolerance levels — while watching for signs of overwhelm or exhaustion.