When someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia, their cognitive function may be declining, but they still have abilities. In fact, continuing to do as much as they can at their current ability level keeps them active and may even help maintain skills longer.
We found a helpful article from MindStart that talks about the importance of purposeful activities for dementia. They encourage us to broaden the idea of “activities” to include everyday tasks as well as entertainment, outings, and events.
They also encourage adapting activities and providing support as needed to help older adults maintain a sense of independence and accomplishment – something we all need, no matter our age or health condition.
We share highlights from the article that explain 4 reasons why dementia activities are so important and 5 ways to adapt activities to fit someone’s ability level.
1. Slow the decline
As the saying goes, “use it or lose it.” Even though we mean well by helping as much as we can, we may end up helping too much. Continuing to do as many activities and daily tasks as independently as possible benefits seniors with dementia.
Instead, we should adapt activities as needed to allow them to do as much as possible for as long as possible. That can help them retain abilities and stay active for longer.
2. Provide daily structure
People with dementia do best with a consistent daily routine. Having structure to the day gives needed predictability and stability when their mind is making them feel disoriented or confused.
3. Give a feeling of productivity
As dementia progresses, older adults are capable of less and often feel like a burden. Helping them participate in everyday tasks and activities can boost mood and improve quality of life.
4. Reduce challenging behaviors
Activities can also reduce common dementia behaviors, like agitation, repeated questions, and anger. This keeps them engaged and occupied as well as giving them a way to use their energy in a positive way.
People at different stages of dementia will need different amounts of help. These guidelines help you adapt activities to suit your older adult’s current level of ability. As the disease progresses, you’ll give an increased amount of help to compensate for greater decline. Overall, the goal is to help them feel successful.
Prepare the activity for your older adult. Do this when they’ll be able to complete the activity after it’s set up.
For example, help them brush teeth independently by putting toothpaste on their toothbrush and placing it next to the sink. Or, lay out each item of clothing on the bed in the order they’ll use to put them on.
When your older adult needs a little more help, set up the activity and stay nearby while encouraging them to complete it on their own. You’ll be able to gently correct errors or solve problems that might come up.
For example, if the task is to wash dishes, you’d set up a soapy sponge and stack dishes next to the sink. Then, stand nearby to make sure the water is the right temperature and so you can check that no spots are missed.
When someone needs more help, you may need to prompt them so they won’t become frustrated.
If they get stuck, point out the next step, give them an item that’s needed, or ask what the next action is.
For example, when they’re getting dressed, you could point to the shirt first. When that’s on, point to the pants or ask “what’s next?”
4. Direct verbal cues
When prompting isn’t enough, your older adult may need to be gently guided through each step with simple spoken directions.
For example, if your older adult is washing their face in the morning, you may guide them with brief directions, allowing plenty of time to accomplish each step. “Pick up the washcloth….Turn on the faucet…Put the cloth in the water to get it wet…Turn off the faucet…Squeeze the water out of the towel…Wipe your face.”
5. Physical assistance
When your older adult is still physically able to complete the task, but needs physical help to do it. Doing things this way can feel a bit silly to you, but it does help them feel like they’re participating and completing the task.
For example, if they were washing dishes, you could put your hand over theirs and guide them to gently rub the dish with the sponge.