Personalized Activities Improve the Lives of Assisted Living Residents with Dementia, Study Shows

It’s not uncommon for elderly people with dementia, even those living in assisted living facilities with other people their age, to become reclusive and stop participating in social activities. Often, this behavior is chalked up to the disease, but a recent study shows it may just be a result of poorly planned activities.

The study, led by a Georgia State University gerontology researcher, is titled “Meaningful Engagement Among Assisted Living Residents With Dementia: Successful Approaches,” and it was published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology. It was based on interviews with a diverse group of 33 assisted living residents and observational visits at assisted living facilities.

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The research shows that dementia patients in assisted living facilities have improved quality of life when their care and activities are more tailored to their personalities. Typical activity programming at assisted living residences, on the other hand, currently leaves many elderly people sitting on the sidelines not knowing how to participate or feeling disinterested in the activity at hand.

The researchers noted that “listening and observing verbal and non-verbal cues were keys to connecting and meeting residents on their own terms.” They urge caregivers to make attempts to include all residents in activities regardless of the residents’ apparent ability to benefit from those activities.

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It’s important, in other words, for caregivers not to underestimate their residents. They should get to know their residents on an individual level and what they like; this way, activities can be planned that residents will actually enjoy partaking in.

“COVID-19 highlights the importance of meaningful engagement for everyone, especially for persons living with dementia,” says Candace Kemp, a professor at Georgia State University’s Gerontology Institute and principal investigator of the study. “Doing things that are enjoyable and being engaged to the extent possible and desirable are significant for quality of life and quality of care.”

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Of course, this research is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 era because visits from friends and family have been limited and group activities and gatherings have been restricted. However, a focus on meaningful engagement with residents will benefit them well beyond the time when social distancing finally ends.

Meaningful Engagement and Quality of Life among Assisted Living Residents with Dementia” is an ongoing project by Georgia State and Emory University researchers working with residents and their caregivers in assisted living facilities and personal care homes in the Atlanta area.

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