Take them to see old movies and plays whose plot they might remember, get videos of old TV shows, radio show recordings or old newsreels of things your mom liked in happier times. The oldest memories last the longest. Hearing is the last thing to go, so even when it looks like she’s in a coma, talk to her and play music.
Take them out to dance concerts, music performances, walks in parks, go to familiar restaurants or ones with familiar food. If up to it, go to a carnival & ride the rides—even the slightly scary ones as long as everyone is safely strapped in. Go to zoos and museums. Even if your mom is confined to a wheelchair most places are accessible, and many now have family bathrooms which make things easier.
Play kids games and put together puzzles that are easy enough for them to complete. Sing songs they might remember. Often if they went to church or another religious institution, there might be comfort in the ritual of going to services. Even if they didn’t, you can start going as people are generally friendly and helpful and you can have some help. Plus, there’s usually some great music to enjoy. If COVID means you have to watch services online for now, so be it, but that also means you can access any online service anywhere in the world.
Make a big calendar, post it someplace visible and do things on a consistent basis. My dad had dementia but was able to follow a schedule by looking at his watch. For example, Mondays we go to a museum, Tuesdays we walk outside or in a shopping mall, Wednesdays is shower, fix hair and paint nails day, Thursdays are phone calls and visits with friends, Fridays are dinners out when we dress up, Saturdays we go boating, or swim (or walk, or paddle) in an indoor pool. Sundays we go to church or the movies.
Get a gym membership and go exercise. Riding stationery bikes together or using machines to lift light weights is good for everyone and can be easily learned. You can get gym staff to help you decide what’s safe, doable and helpful for you all. I love “Tai Chi Ch’ih: Joy Through Movement” on You Tube. It’s an easy and repetitive form of movement meditation that helps mind and body and is great for balance and overall health. You don’t need a lot of space or any equipment and It can be done in a chair if needed. Put on music and dance freestyle. Play patty-cake and perk-a-boo and head, shoulders, knees and toes. Watch TV shows designed for kids at whatever intellectual level your mom and/or sister are at. Be prepared to abandon and switch plans if things aren’t working.
Be as agreeable and cheerful as you can even if mom’s not making much sense. Just like with a toddler, you may have to work with distractions. Sweets always got my dad’s attention!
Go to an animal shelter and hang out with the animals. Go to a playground and watch the kids. Go to a school sports event and watch the game/competition. You can pretend it’s over at half time if attention is flagging.
Take a painting class and slap paint on canvases, or a flower arranging class, or whatever. Talk to the teacher/s beforehand about your mother and sisters’ limitations. Join a mall walking group or a seated yoga class. Give her something social to look forward to where she will feel like she accomplished something. I used to take my dad to my dance company rehearsals. He was deaf, but he could follow the movements and I’d get him stuff to eat for dinner to keep him occupied. The women would all smile at him and it was familiar every week. When he finally went to a performance with makeup, lighting and costumes, he was thrilled because he was familiar with all the dances.
Read together as much as everyone is able. My dad went from reading the whole newspaper to reading a bit of articles, to reading headlines, to reading shorter and shorter notes to looking at pictures.
We used to “read” old photo albums, and my dad would remember happy times, or eventually just be delighted he could recognize himself in the photos; “that’s me!”
See if your mom’s doctor could prescribe some antidepressants for your mom if she’s depressed and giving up. Be aware that it takes about a month for anything to kick in and it usually takes a lot of trial and error to get the right prescription and dosage, but it does help. You might want to ask about some for yourself if you’re despairing.
Everyone enjoys sensual things. Manicures and pedicures, massages (full body, feet, hands, shoulders, sitting in a massage chair in a shopping mall), scented sprays for body or home, scented lotions, facials, back scratches, bath fizzies or nice soaps, pretty candles if it’s not a hazard, etc. Have her touch different textures, smell different herbs, listen to different sounds.
Give her things to do to feel helpful: have her fold washcloths, towels, pillowcases for laundry, or hand her clothing to put in the washer, or have her take the clothes out of the dryer. Have her help in the kitchen, pouring measured liquids in bowls, putting cookies in a jar or tin, shaking sprinkles on a birthday cake, adding ingredients to a pot or pan, drying silverware or other unbreakable items, putting silverware in a drawer, setting the table or handing out napkins, whatever she’s capable of doing. If she does things all wrong, just fix it when she can’t see it. My dad would happily fold stacks of washcloths at his nursing home for an hour. You can use the same ones over and over.
Not sure where you are, but see if there are day care programs for seniors with craft activities and more to occupy them where you can leave your mom (and maybe your sister) for a fee. Check with local nursing home programs where you may be able to pay for her to join activities if there are spots available.
Don’t neglect yourself! Look into respite care and be sure you have time for fun with friends too. Think of things you’d enjoy when taking your mom and sister: manicures, the zoo, a football game, a play—whatever you would enjoy also. Develop your “village” of people who can help out from neighbors to church members, to people from the gym or classes. Sometimes just having someone to keep an eye on your loved ones so you can pee is a blessing. You will not regret spending the time you have left with your mom. It’s heartbreaking but also has many shining moments. Even when my dad didn’t know who I was, he was happy to see me.
My heart goes out to you. If you believe in heaven, you have already earned your place there. Bless you and keep reaching out. If I lived near you I’d come help.