(Alzheimer’s Australia) Each day there are many things that provide us with purpose and pleasure. For a person with dementia, the need for a good quality of life is not diminished. However, without some assistance from family and carers, their ability to achieve purpose and pleasure is much more difficult.
Ideally, activities should:
- Compensate for lost activities
- Promote self-esteem
- Maintain residual skills and not involve new learning
- Provide an opportunity for enjoyment, pleasure and social contact
- Be sensitive to the person’s cultural background
Below are a range of helpful guidelines that can help you plan appropriate activities.
Consider All That Has Made the Person Unique
This means knowing the person’s former lifestyle, work history, hobbies, recreational and social interests, travel and significant life events.
Activities Can Re-establish Old Roles
Make use of skills that have not been forgotten, such as buttering bread, washing up or watering, sweeping and raking in the garden. These are also ways in which a person with dementia can contribute to the household and feel useful. Encourage an area of responsibility no matter how small.
Activities Can Give Relaxation and Pleasure
A person with dementia may enjoy an outing even if they do not remember where they have been. What is important is that the moment is enjoyed, even though the experience may be soon forgotten.
Simple and Unhurried Activities That are Meaningful are Best
Give the time and space necessary to allow the person to do as much as possible. Focus on one thing at a time. Break down activities into simple, manageable steps. Communicate one instruction at a time.
Prepare a Safe Working Area
People with dementia often have difficulty with visual perception and coordination. Ensure that surfaces are uncluttered with few distractions and noise. Good lighting, without glare, individual seat preferences and correct work heights are all important. Using plastic containers might help to avoid breakages.
Don’t Allow Activities to Reinforce Inadequacy or Increase Stress
Abilities can fluctuate from day to day. Activities can be adapted and tried another time if not successful or enjoyable.
Use Times to Suit the Person’s Best Level of Functioning
To ensure maximum success when carrying out activities it is best to consider the times of day when the person is at their best. For instance, sometimes walking is best done in the morning or the early afternoon. However for some people who are particularly restless later in the day, or who have had a particularly long or meaningless day, a late afternoon walk may be better.
Don’t Over Stimulate
Be selective with outings. Avoid crowds, constant movement and noise which many people with dementia find overwhelming.
Allow an Emotional Outlet
For many people, music or contact with babies, children or animals provide positive feelings. Excellent memories of past events are often kept and looking through old photos, memorabilia and books enables the recall of earlier times. The opportunity to relive treasured moments can be deeply satisfying. If reading skills have deteriorated make individual audiotapes. Locate picture books and magazines in the person’s areas of interest.
Include Sensory Experiences
Some sensory experiences that may be enjoyed are:
- Hand, neck and foot massage
- Hair brushing
- Smelling fresh flowers or pot pourri
- Using fragrant essential oils
- Stroking an animal or different textured materials
- A visit to a herb farm or a flower show
- Provide a rummage box that contains things that the person has been interested in
A Sense of Movement and Rhythm is Often Retained Longer Than Most Abilities
Hire an exercise bike or a walking machine for rainy days. Be spectators or participants at dance classes or walk the dog together. Walkers enjoy the wider world while getting much needed exercises.
Consistency is Important
It can be helpful to write out an activities care plan if different people are caring for the person. This will ensure that activities are consistent and are suited to the individual needs of a person with dementia.
Activities play a significant part in the dealing with changed behaviours. Knowing what helps to calm or divert a person when they are restless or distressed is very important. This can be particularly helpful for respite workers.
Don’t Give Up
Mistakes and failures will happen, but don’t let the person with dementia feel like a failure. Keep trying.