Residents in retirement communities who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia are at higher risk for being under stimulated due to their inability to initiate leisure activities or to sustain them once they are started. This is why it is so important for the programming staff to offer opportunities to keep their residents engaged. Often the staff finds the route to conquer engagement extremely difficult due to the many side effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s, such as wandering, cursing, screaming, being verbally inappropriate and exhibiting forms of physical aggression.
When evaluating how engaged in activity programs dementia and Alzheimer’s residents are, one may first need to make themself aware of what qualifies as being engaged. Engagement can be defined as questioning the program once they are in the designated area, talking with another person or resident about the program, touching or handling an item being used for the activity (such as a pen, ball, bean bag…) or simply observing and waiting for their turn in the activity. Though there are different levels of engagement, any form is beneficial to your residents.
Here is a list of things to consider when planning activity programs for your Alzheimer’s and dementia residents. These ideas are to help you build attendance and help them gain interaction and engagement:
- Descriptive prompts are words that are used to describe specific activities of interest that are available to the residents, based on one’s personal preference. For example “Come join us as we play a game like Crossword Puzzles”. By doing this you are allowing the resident to make associations of things that are or were once of interest to them, therefore enticing one to attend and become engaged.
- Modifying communication styles helps understanding, stimulation, and interest. Be sure to communicate clearly while explaining things in short, comprehensible phrases or statements. Words can often become overwhelming.
- Skill-appropriate atmospheres should match one’s cognitive capabilities and not hinder them by focusing on programs that are too challenging or too easy for one’s comprehension level.
- Keeping things simple helps maintaining a sense of familiarity. For example, using common household supplies or props engages one’s long term memory.
- Multisensory programs capture interest and initiate reminiscing through long term memory. For example, if you are having a program about “Beaches of the World”, try passing around a bottle of sun tan lotion for your residents to smell before engaging in a conversation. You may also want to allow the residents to place their hands in sand and then rinse them in a bucket of warm water.