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Designing Activities for People with Dementia

Posted by Administrator on 2/4/2014
Recently, I carried out a very unique occupational therapy session. I was helping my daughter re-learn how to step on her foot after being off of it with crutches for 2 weeks due to a broken ankle. We worked on this while performing a favorite occupation -baking muffins. Her "first step" on her foot, despite her fear and uncertainty, was a winning accomplishment for us both. It reminded me of the power of occupation - or doing activities - no matter the age of the person or the condition. It also reminded me of why I started MindStart.

Occupation - or Activities - for People with Dementia

All humans have a need to feel purposeful and to do things.  For most people, it happens without stopping to think about it.  You wake up to the alarm, make coffee, check some emails, drive to work, complete an assignment, etc.  The day is filled with activities - some that are just to meet basic needs, some that are work, some that are to care for others, and some that are fun.  Even the time to unwind or sleep is an activity, or occupation.  Doing the things of daily life is what makes us who we are; it may look a bit different for each person.

A patient with an injury, disease, or other condition experiences a disruption in life activities.  Such is the case for people with dementia. They may wake at noon, no longer understanding the concept of time.  They may burn the coffee and be no longer able to use a computer, as their ability to follow steps is affected.  They may be too confused to drive or work any longer.  So what becomes of the day for people with dementia?

Adapted Activities for Patients with Dementia

People with dementia can become inactive, bored, or restless when they have nothing they are able to do.  Negative behaviors can result, such as anger, pacing, or calling out.  But when the person with dementia has an activity to do - one that is adapted to meet their level of ability - the person once again has a purpose, a sense of accomplishment.

As an occupational therapist working one-on-one with patients with dementia, I adapted activities that the person may have enjoyed in the past, to be a simpler version and, therefore, more achievable for the person. 

  • The person who used to knit often but was now in the middle stage of dementia, became engaged in rolling a ball of yarn.
  • The person who used to enjoy cooking, but was also in the middle dementia stage, became engaged in stirring pudding, as it cooked.
  • The person who used to do crossword puzzles from the newspaper but was now in the early stage of dementia, became engaged in completing a simpler, homemade word search puzzle.

I saw firsthand not only the importance of activity for people with dementia, but also the difficulty caregivers had in knowing how to adapt activities.  But I knew the number of people that needed help outnumbered occupational therapists that could help.

The solution? Activities that had the adaptations BUILT INTO the products, that were affordable, easy to set-up for use, and most importantly, successful for the patient with dementia.  MindStart was born!

Design of Activities for People with Alzheimer's and Other Dementia

The design of activity products for dementia, includes a bit of science, art, real-time testing, and caregiver feedback.

Science tells us that cognitive abilities change as the level of dementia changes.  In fact, the Theory of Retrogenesis by Dr. Barry Reisberg, says that the stages of decline of dementia mirror the stages of development of a child, only in reverse.  So an appropriate activity for the person in middle stage Alzheimer's may have the same concepts of an activity for a pre-schooler or toddler (for example, matching). 

However, I wanted the products to reflect adult life, not be a toy.  This is where the art of occupational therapy came in, to incorporate images and themes of adult life.  From here, MindStart product prototypes were created.

The prototypes were tested with patients with dementia.  As I analyzed how the person performed with the activity and their response, tweaks to the prototype was made.  Feedback was also gathered from caregivers.  The result is the products now available from MindStart (and more, currently being developed!).  The products allow: 

  • The person who used to sew but is now in middle stage dementia, can become engaged in lacing a card of Look and Lace.
  • The person who used to enjoy 100+ jigsaw puzzles but is now in later-early stage of dementia, can now be successful with a 24 piece puzzle based on an adult theme (i.e. Autumn)               
  • The person who used to enjoy reading and church, can now be engaged looking at spiritual pictures and familiar hymns in the Praise and Glory book.

We know that the person with Alzheimer's or other dementia, changes day to day.  That can be a challenge. 

But each new day offers the opportunity for that "first step" for the person with dementia to become engaged with an adapted activity.  With the help of caregivers AND with MindStart products the person with dementia can have winning accomplishment moments, just as my daughter did.

Monica, Occupational Therapist and MindStart Owner

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4 Comments

Yaja Kindermann
Date: 2/9/2014
What a brilliant but a very obvious moment when you think about it! I think most carers realise this but have no idea how to adapt any hobby or activity to suit the sufferer. Your advice is priceless. And I have noticed how Mum who was an avid knitter, embroiderer, upholsterer, and craftswoman in general, can now find as much pleasure in rolling a ball of wool up. The gradual loss of Mum's creativity has been so very painful to watch. But...as her main carer I have come to accept that even the simplest action, if it gives her pleasure and a feeling of achievement, then there are no need for tears!
Brian Bradley
Date: 2/10/2014
I have to say I love this article. I am a PTA working in home health and I love it, I work with a lot of dementia patients and have a huge interest in starting a business in the next two years to become a huge advocate for those suffering from the challenging affects dementia has on patient and family. I just joined your group tonight and would like to read more articles and gather some more information as I take this new journey into my new business venture. Thank you!!
Monica from MindStart
Date: 2/20/2014
Thanks Yaja, for your mother is achieving and doing - just at a pace that her is her own now. Keep encouraging that as long as you can. Brian, your work sounds great. If you have not already, sign up for our email newsletter athttp://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/manage/optin?v=001QKuSz0c7kgYgqGanqASPr9ORzMJmEXk_
James Kenneth Terry
Date: 6/3/2014
I work with persons with dementia and Alheimia's. Thank you for the information and suggestions. I will use them in my work. I would welcome any other information you may have to share. Terry

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