One of the biggest mistakes caregivers often make with dementia patients is not filling the patients’ days with activities. It may seem like what elderly people really need is rest, but they are just as capable as the rest of us of getting bored, and they need to be stimulated in a variety of ways, even when their memories begin to fade.
For people with dementia, simple activities can fulfill four very important needs that all of us have. These needs are productivity, leisure, self-care, and rest. You can fulfill the need to do something productive and feel needed by asking a dementia patient to help you with a task you think they’ll find familiar or enjoyable, such as finishing a puzzle or baking muffins. Leisure activities might include telling stories, listening to music, knitting, or any number of other hobbies. Self-care activities can be tasks like eating, bathing, grooming, or exercising. Lastly, rest is any way a person recharges their batteries, such as socializing or having some alone time.
At each stage of dementia and for each individual person with a unique personality, the activities that will properly fulfill these needs are different. For example, telling a personal story might be leisurely for a very social individual, but listening to music will likely be more fun for an individual who is introverted and private.
Similarly, a woman might get fulfillment out of helping cook or bake something, while a man who did not perform those activities when he was younger will likely not respond well to that activity. The goal is to support what each individual cares about with an activity that is suitable to their tastes and the stage of dementia they’re in.
So now that you know how important a fully structured day of activities is for people with dementia, how do you pick the right activities? Luckily, we’ve got an expert on the case.
Teepa Snow, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA, is a dementia care and education specialist with a background in occupational therapy and over 30 years of experience, which has taught her a lot about how people with dementia think and what can be done to help them cope with this horrible disease. In an effort to improve care and quality of life for dementia patients (and their caregivers), Teepa leads classes and makes videos focused on difficult dementia-related situations like the one described above.
Check out the video below to learn more about how to choose and execute the right activities and to see some activities in action. Along the way, Teepa will explain why each activity is a good fit for the people doing it and how to help them accomplish the task without doing it for them.
We love Teepa, and we hope you enjoyed her sage advice in this video. If you’ve got tips for how to fill the day for someone with dementia with meaningful activities, we’d love to hear about it in the commenmts.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?