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The Importance of Purposeful and Meaningful Activities for People with Dementia

The Importance of Purposeful and Meaningful Activities for People with Dementia

How do you spend your time? Perhaps you enjoy shopping, going to the movies, or visiting friends and relatives. Maybe you have a hobby like woodworking, knitting, cooking, or art. You might choose to get physical, taking a walk or going for a swim. Or you may be a person who fills your time by volunteering, cleaning house, watching TV, or reading a book. A person with dementia still desires to engage in life and might enjoy many of these same pursuits. Unfortunately, their cognitive deficits make it difficult for them to initiate an activity. And, once begun, they may no longer be able to sequence (break the activity into steps), making it tough for them to proceed with the activity. This inability to initiate and follow through with activities they would otherwise enjoy can leave them with a sense of frustration, loneliness, and boredom.

As human beings, we seek meaning, purpose, and social engagement. Studies have shown that providing opportunities for a person with dementia to take part in purposeful and meaningful activities can slow the progression of the disease. Furthermore, keeping the person engaged can prevent many of the behaviors associated with dementia, such as wandering, repeating questions, aggression, and apathy.

Imagine visiting a facility where the people you see are slumped over in chairs sleeping, or glassy-eyed as they half-heartedly watch you walk by. You hear cries of “help me” coming from another room. The most activity you see is a lone man shuffling down the hall. The overall feelings are of depression and sadness.

Now imagine those same people in an assisted living community where they are encouraged to be involved. You see a group of people working on a craft project, and in the same room there is a staff person massaging the hands of someone no longer able to participate, as she quietly discusses the craft being done. In another room you see a group tossing a ball. When they finish, they move into working on a giant crossword puzzle together. You notice that those not engaged in a formal activity are helping set the table, sanding a piece of wood, gardening, sweeping the floor, or listening to music. In this scenario, you hear laughing, conversations, people involved socially and interacting with their environment. The overall feeling is contentment as you watch people engaged with life.

There are many benefits to engaging people in meaningful activity:

  • Studies have shown that stimulating activities, both cognitive and physical, can slow the progression of dementia.
  • Physical and cognitive exercises are transferable to activities of daily living, such as eating and personal care, making it possible for an individual to maintain their current abilities for a longer period of time.
  • Depression and anxiety are prevalent in people with dementia and can lead to a decline in their health. Socialization is important in relieving depression and anxiety.
  • Keeping a person active during the day can help them sleep better at night, which in turn provides healthy routines and patterns.
  • A person encouraged to engage in activities that allow them to feel successful, increases their self-esteem and improves their overall quality of life.
  • Challenging behaviors arise as a way for a person with dementia to communicate their needs. When they are active, social, and engaged, many of these behaviors decrease, or never arise, because the person’s needs are being met.

Most of the time we think of “activities” as entertainment or simply giving someone something to occupy their time. However, activities done well and with purpose are so much more. Purposeful engagement should be at the heart of every encounter we have with a person living with dementia. We all need connection with others on a social and emotional level, those with dementia need help to make these connections. When a caregiver is helping a person brush their teeth, they have an opportunity to create a meaningful activity through conversation and approach.

The most important thing in creating opportunities for purposeful and meaningful activities is to know the person well. What do they like to do? What was important to them in the past? What skills do they still possess? What values do they hold dear? By taking into account who the person is, both in the past and the present, we are able to create moments of meaningful activity throughout their day.

Examples of Purposeful and Meaningful Activities

When considering a meaningful activity, keep in mind which of the five senses are involved: sight, sound, taste, touch, and scent; and what domain of life the activity touches on: domestic, outdoor, social, personal, artistic, individual, work, or exercise.

Domestic: bake, prepare tea, set tables, clear and wipe tables, wash dishes, fold towels, vacuum, dust.

Outdoor: rake leaves, sweep the patio, garden, feed pets, visit the park or beach.

Social: visits from a baby, attend a concert or play, board/card games.

Artistic: paint and draw, knit, decorate placemats, create greeting cards, arrange flowers.

Personal: facials, hand massages and manicures, look at photos, play favorite music.

Work: use a computer, clip coupons, small repair jobs, woodwork.

Physical: strength and balance training, Tai Chi, Yoga, walking.

For additional ideas, visit: https://www.hcinteractive.com/101-things-to-do-with-a-person-who-has-memory-loss.

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