3 Strategies for Dementia Friendly Activity Planning
Planning activities for an individual with dementia doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming, either. In fact, activity planning (and execution) is a powerful platform for rekindling relationships, friendships, and deep connections with others.
- Do you ever feel overwhelmed determining how to engage with your loved one who has dementia?
- Are you facing challenges finding ways to foster genuine quality time together?
- Does the idea of planning activities intimidate you in some way?
Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. By answering “yes” to any of these questions already indicates that you have everything it takes to plan successful activities for your loved one.
Here are 3 basic strategies to consider when planning individual activities for someone with dementia:
1. Keep the person’s interests in mind
The diagnoses of dementia does not suggest that those suffering from it give up everything they love and enjoy. Activities can be modified to suit the person’s current abilities so that they can participate and engage fully. Some of the most basic activities such as making the bed, tidying up the room, sweeping the floor, folding clothes, and watering the plants can provide a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment. If these simple activities are something the individual has valued throughout their life, start there!
- Consider the individuals’ hobbies, career, involvement in the community, family history, likes/dislikes, etc.
- It is just as important to know what the person does NOT enjoy as it is to understand what they do enjoy.
- Take note when the individual seems happy, anxious, distracted or irritable during an activity.
Activities can then be adjusted in the future based on your observations.
You care for this person deeply and want to give them a thousand reasons to smile every day. Because of this, it can be easy to go “overboard” with planning. A simple tea on the patio could turn into a frazzled shopping trip to find the daintiest napkins, finest teas, and elegant tea cups. Don’t worry yourself over the fine details. Simplify. This doesn’t mean “dumbing an activity down”, but rather focusing solely on the heart-and-soul of the activity; what makes it so special.
It isn’t about the napkins, the teas, or the cups. It is about gathering the bare necessities needed to share the activity together. The heart of a successful activity lies in togetherness and feeling connected.
- Choose your activity theme and make a list.
- What are the bare necessities? What is required for this activity?
- Strip away the nonessentials.
- For example, if you plan to bake a batch of cookies together; stick to using simple ingredients. Your heart may want to purchase the finest Belgian chocolate, or serve the cookies on a silver platter, but these are not essential to making this activity meaningful.
3. Follow a routine
Individuals living with dementia benefit from a daily routine. Having a structured day helps to ease anxiety and promotes well-being (especially in late
stages of dementia). It’s not as though the day should
be filled hour-by-hour with a regimented schedule, but having a general flow of events is most likely to reduce agitation and improve mood. Having a daily routine also helps caregivers, family members, and care providers to rest and recharge which is equally important.
- Consider how the individual used to structure their day. Did they start it off with a cup of coffee and the daily paper? Even this activity can be modified to suit an individual with dementia (they can hold the newspaper even if they do not understand what it says).
- What time of day does this person function the best?
- Planning activities within these windows of time is likely to yield positive results.
- If you must plan, plan for moments rather than an entire day.
- Allow life to happen. Remember, routine is about balance. A person with dementia is similar to you and me; sometimes they want to engage in activity while other times they would like to enjoy quiet time.
The progression of dementia is fluid; it can change from day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and so on. Some days are better than others, and while an activity may be popular one day it may not be successful the next. If you remain open-minded to this it will help you to approach activity planning with optimism. If any activity should “fail” to succeed one day; take note of the environment, time of day, and other factors specific to the individual and try a new approach next time! Activities are all about adapting and evolving as the course of dementia carries on. Be creative, keep things personal, and remember that because you care you are already making a positive difference in this person’s life!
Morgan Mullins, Gerontologist, CDP