Delivering proper engagement to people with dementia is critical for their quality of life and ability to thrive at any stage of the disease. The challenge lies often in finding something that is meaningful and person centered. Here are five guidelines to successfully choose an appropriate activity for someone with dementia:
1. Assess their skills, life history and stage of dementia
Activities should focus on how to make the resident successful; what they can do instead of what they cannot do. Consider the uniqueness of their life history when thinking about activities. People with Dementia retain old habits and abilities longer, so it is beneficial to find an activity that they used to do and enjoy. As discussed previously, finding out if the person is in the early, middle or late stage of dementia will help find the correct option.
2. Activities should include all dimensions of wellness
Beyond the need for fun and social interactions, people with dementia enjoy physical activity including exercise, walking and maintaining good hand-eye coordination. They also still have spiritual needs, regardless of whether they have a particular faith. You can celebrate a person’s faith or spirituality through nature, music and the arts. Occupational topics are also very important: Our work plays a major role in our lives and related activities will create a sense of being useful and valued.
Remember: It doesn’t matter what the end product looks like or if it has been done properly, so long as the person has enjoyed doing the activity. And sometimes, doing nothing is doing something.
3. Be prepared
It is important to select the best time of day for the activity. If the person with dementia has more energy in the morning you may choose this time to go for a walk. Perhaps they are more focused in the afternoons and you can try an arts and crafts session. The right activity can be a good diversion for redirection and reducing behaviors associated with sundowning.
One should also be prepared for alternative activities. Quite often the person with dementia will not connect with the activity you have chosen, so you must have an alternative ready. Persistence is the key and through trial and error you will eventually find a suitable activity.
4. Pay attention to activities of daily living
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) play an important part in the role of engagement and is probably the most overlooked. Personal care activities ensure dignity and it is important to take the time to help the person with dementia take pride in their appearance. Dignity is foremost in the care of people with dementia.
5. Activities need to be initiated but not forced
People with dementia lose the ability to initiate activities. It is up to the caregiver to get them started. Also, one should remember that we all are reluctant to do things we do not want to do. You may find that you have to gently encourage participation and be persuasive, but you must ensure that you are not too aggressive. For practical and ethical reasons, participation in the activity should always be voluntary.