Planning activities for a person with dementia, if you are the primary caregiver, can be a daunting task with everything else you have on your plate. Activities are an incredibly important aspect of quality of life, and unfortunately, the person’ ability to initiate and engage in activities that bring meaning and purpose, will decline as the dementia progresses. Though hugely important, getting a person with dementia involved in activities can be a challenging endeavor. However, incorporating specific strategies can make it a bit easier on you and your person. As with everything with dementia, planning ahead is always the first step.
- Best Time: People generally have ebbs and flows to their energy levels that are relatively consistent from day to day. Learn your person’s ‘schedule’ and plan accordingly.
- Be Prepared: Gather everything that you could need for an activity.
- Work within a routine: Generally, individuals with dementia function better when there is a general, predictable routine. Working within their ‘schedule’, try to create consistency throughout their days.
Enhancing the experience for you and your person:
- Be here, now: Turn off cell phones, put the ‘to-do’ list away. This is time for you and your person- don’t squander it by being somewhere else mentally.
- Facilitate, not ‘do’: Try not to be so focused on the end result that you take over an activity. Release control and give your person permission to make the present moment to happen. Encourage your person to do the activity while allowing it to be done their way.
- Give space for expression: Resist the urge to complete your person’s sentences or stories. Encourage them to observe, describe and express how they feel.
- Find joy: Look at this moment and choose to find the joy. Laugh, smile, breathe, be. Take this opportunity to seek the positive.
Strategies for activities you when you expect resistance:
- Be Prepared: If you are not looking forward to an activity take time to put yourself in the right mindset. Your body language and non-verbal communication speak very loudly to people with dementia. If you’re not ready, they will pick up on it.
- Introductions: You don’t have to tell the person when you plan something. In fact, this often causes distress and can lead to overwhelm whether or not they are looking forward to an activity. It is acceptable to save this disclosure until the last minute.
- “I’m sorry, I completely forgot to tell you!”
- “We’re just going to stop in here”
- “What a nice surprise!”
- Choose Language Thoughtfully: How can you soften the language you use to make the message more palatable?
- Freshen up may be more palatable than bath or shower.
- Be Positively Directive: Don’t ask for an opinion if you only have one answer in mind. If there is only one option- don’t ask, find a different way to say it.
- Instead of, “Do you want to go (fill in the blank)?” try “Let’s go (fill in the blank)”
By being thoughtful, pre-planning and in the moment, you can help ensure the person with dementia is able to engage in and even enjoy activities that can bring a sense of meaning and purpose.