Activity and resident dementia

“What activities can my mother do at the nursing home?” asks the resident’s daughter.Staff know just what the daughter hopes to hear. It’s natural to regard lots of activity and participation as a sign that a person is content. The daughter hopes her mother will take part in as many of the organized activities offered at the home as possible.It’s important for families to know that for residents with injuries or diseases that damage the brain, some of the activities that are most beneficial may not be the crafts and outings the daughter has in mind.

In fact, when a person has a “progressive dementia” — i.e. a condition like Alzheimer’s disease that progressively disables thinking and behaviour — the word “activity” must be understood in its broadest sense.

The reason is that people with progressive dementia lose their ability to communicate and remember new information. They also gradually lose their skills — even the ones taken for granted, such as getting dressed. For a victim of dementia, organized events in nursing homes like games, songs and crafts, may become a source of embarrassment, frustration and confusion. What’s more, even such htual skills as using a knife and fork, combing our hair or brushing our teeth, may constantly have to be relearned.

Therefore, meaningful activity for a person with dementia may include “activities of daily living,” where, for example, a staff member encourages and assists the resident to apply make-up, shave or perform other routines of personal grooming. Completing these tasks successfully has tremendous power to improve a person’s self-image and self-esteem.

Staff members also try wherever possible to link a resident’s care plan with what they know about the resident’s lifestyle. The care team is delighted to learn, for example, that a resident has always been particular about appearance, or has always been spiritual, or has favoured classical music.

Since the care team’s goal is to help the resident with dementia live as normal a life as possible with pleasure, dignity and purpose, the activity director would then arrange for the resident to attend religious services or scripture readings. Family members would be encouraged to make classical music tapes available, or to invite the resident to a concert.

Linking a resident’s activities to the familiar also helps to reduce the confusion and extreme behaviour that often occurs with progressive dementia.

Other considerations:

o Social skills are so automatic, that small social events like afternoon tea may cue a resident to perform appropriate behaviour…which helps to increase self-esteem.

o Some people with progressive dementia need lots of physical movement, especially if it’s repetitive or rhythmic, like stirring batter or sanding boards.

o Since long-term memory remains intact longer, talking to a resident about the past, especially the meaningful moments, is suggested.

In a nursing home, “activities” vary widely. Staff do their best to involve families, keep the care plan personal and flexible, and give the resident as many opportunities as possible to feel positive, purposeful and loved.

If you have questions, please see your director of care.