ENGAGING THOSE WITH DEMENTIA
"Discovering activities that Alzheimer's patients can actively
participate in at whatever level helps them maintain enjoyment,
pride, and dignity in their lives."
We often hear health care professionals say, “Everything a person does is an activity.” That includes brushing teeth, taking a bath, and dining. True enough. Those are all perhaps activities of daily living…but most do not meet the psychosocial needs of elders.
Simply put, although just about everything that happens during a day can be considered an activity, we think the focus should be on things that are personally meaningful and of interest to elders.
Some believe games and craft making are childish, humiliating, and a waste of potentially meaningful time. We agree that many poorly organized gatherings do little to stimulate creative thinking and seldom produce the sense of community…or inclusion…so needed by elders. But, to broadly label certain types of interactions as “childish” misses a major conceptual principle. There is a huge difference between “childish” and “child-like” especially when dementia is part of the equation. The quality of an activity should be measured by outcomes.
Were fundamental emotional needs met?
Was the person occupied in a significant way, re-connected with his or her identity, comforted, included, feeling attached and loved?
Active Living (an environment that nurtures a person's physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being) creates a nourishing atmosphere where these needs will be met on a consistent rather than sporadic basis.
To accomplish the goal of injecting something (more then physical or medical attention) into the hours and days of elders, the concept of Active Living must be woven into the culture of care. Everyone must contribute.
During our travels we've witnessed C.N.A.'s work straight through their lunch break to facilitate a meaningful activity for someone with dementia…a maintenance man ask for a hand while repairing the heater…a master chef spread out flowers for elders to arrange at each table…a housekeeper lend a listening ear to a troubled family member…an administrator adopt an open-door policy for daily tea parties with residents. When the environment is alive, people volunteer their attention and time…and they do it because they want to. And, the work they do is magnificent.
Active Living is not an event or a calendar. There is no “one size fits all” prescription to fostering this positive atmosphere.
Like a good soup, a few key ingredients can make for a satisfying meal. However, when the chef adds small pinches of seasoning and spice (think of Remy from the Pixar animated film, Ratatouille), that good soup turns into something absolutely divine!
Build as you learn. Evaluate what you're doing now that is working. Polish and refine it. Share successes.
Active Living depends on individual contribution...and teamwork.