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.