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Activity Equals Joy and Purpose for People with Dementia

Posted by on 3/3/2015

I am excited to share this guest blog post from Rachel Wonderlin, a memory care professional, who daily helps people  with dementia engage in life.  She also writes wonderful articles about her work and experiences that can be applied to people living in varieties of settings.

When we hire new employees at Brookdale, we make it known: you have to be involved in resident activities throughout the day. It is part of your job. If that’s something you do not like to do, you will not be a good fit for Brookdale.

As a Program Coordinator and Manager, I appreciate the way that we handle activity planning for our residents with dementia. I cannot emphasize enough how important activity engagement is, especially when it comes to people who are cognitively impaired. If your loved ones or residents with dementia aren’t engaged throughout the day, they will find something to do—but it won’t be something you want them to be doing.

When the residents are engaged in activities, they are happy. I can see why: sitting around all day, doing nothing of importance, does not make a person feel useful. This is why, when I approach my residents and invite them to an event or activity, I always phrase it this way,

'Can you help me?'

When someone asks you for help, you feel important. You feel useful. And this is the same for people with dementia. For the most part, friends and family have stopped asking their loved ones with dementia for assistance. Think about that. People with dementia do not get asked to help with chores, errands, or schoolwork. When you ask a person for help, you’re endowing them with a sense of responsibility and importance. That responsibility is something that a person with dementia has probably not felt in a long time.

A week ago, I asked some of my residents to help me bake cookies. Although I did most of the work, I let each of them take a turn stirring, pouring, or preparing the batter. We waited as the cookies baked in the oven. As we waited, I asked each resident what their favorite cooking memories were at home. When the cookies were cooled, my residents offered suggestions about what they would do differently in the future. “Next time we need more chocolate chips,” one offered. “Next time we should wait until they cool a little longer,” said another.

"Who made these?" a staff member asked playfully, enjoying the chocolate chip cookie a resident had handed her. “We did!” my group responded proudly. "We made these ourselves."

Rachael Wonderlin has a Master's in Gerontology from UNC Greensboro. She works in dementia care at Brookdale Senior Living. Her blog, Dementia By Day (www.dementia-by-day.com) is full of tips, stories, and advice about positive dementia care.


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3 Comments

Mike Good
Date: 6/17/2015
I imagine so many families don't realize the importance of activity to help with their loved one's mood. When you sit back and imagine what it must be like, then you can really see why they get bored and "act out" at times. Rachael provides some great examples on how to create enrichment.
CathyinToledo
Date: 1/20/2016
I agree!!! I am an activity coordinator in a memory care facility. These sentences always help me get Alzheimer's residents engaged: Can you do me a favor? You are the perfect person to help me with this! Will you do this with me? I could really use your ideas with this. Can you help me get this done faster? If the residents feel like they are serving a purpose-- they want to be a part of it!!
Liz DeSantis
Date: 3/10/2016
Does anyone have suggestions on how to get someone who is on the downside of dementia involved in any activities? We have incorporated their past likes into person busy boxes but 99.9% of the time, they refuse to even look in them.
Janet
Date: 7/10/2016
My brother and his wife were sitting with mom one day I bought them a yahtzee game to give them something to do. They asked her to play with them, she did rather well with a little help and had so much fun. We haven't seen her laugh that much in years. That 6 dollar game has been worth hundreds.

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