Tailoring activities for people with dementia – part 2

In our Part 1 article on individual tailored activities for people living with dementia we described the steps needed to get started:

  1. Identify what is meaningful for the person, use old skills and past interests.
  2. Identify the person’s current strengths and abilities.
  3. Modify, simplify and adapt the activities, breaking things into simple steps.
  4. Empower people to do it.

When supporting someone with dementia during this lockdown period the challenge is to find ways to create purposeful and meaningful activities and ways to maintain meaningful relationships while we are all cut off from each other and cannot go about our ordinary daily activities. No one can go out to their usual groups, activities, cafes and outings. We all know that inactivity and boredom allow time for frustration and irritation to grow for everybody in your bubble.

For many people living with dementia the ability to occupy themselves in a satisfying manner slips quietly away – initiation, concentration, motivation, planning and organisational skills. These are all the corner stones to a person being able to set themselves up to occupy time well and do things. This can become even more pronounced during this crazy time we call lockdown.

The challenge for carers and families is to find ways to support a person living with dementia to ‘do’ things.

It is useful to remember that everyday tasks that we often see as chores have value as ‘purposeful activities’ for something living with dementia:

  • Sweeping the driveway
  • Washing the dishes
  • Wiping the benches
  • Cleaning the brass or silver
  • Hanging out the washing
  • Cleaning the windows
  • Setting the table
  • Dusting
  • Emptying the dishwasher
  • Folding clothes
  • Doing simple baking or preparing lunch together

Then there are the tasks we have all been putting off for years that you can do together:

  • Sorting the piles of old photographs, writing on the back of them, who we think the people are and what decade we think it might have been.
  • Sorting out the box full of mixed nuts, bolts, screws, nails and things that need throwing away.
  • Putting your music collection into categories or even alphabetical order.
  • Sorting out old collections – coins, stamps, sporting trophies.
  • Cleaning out the cupboard, wardrobe, pantry or fridge – throwing things away, washing out jars, cleaning shelves.
  • Putting all the books in the book case into categories, authors, alphabetic order or colourways.
  • Create a family tree, record all the aunts and uncles, who married who, cousins, where they lived, any stories about them etc. It doesn’t have to be exactly right or perfect but fun to do.

Or try turning everyday things into an event

  • Putting on a themed dinner party in your bubble, setting a special table for dinner, getting dressed up in posh clothes, putting on your favourite music, dancing and sing together, having water in lovely wine glasses, recreating a special holiday you had somewhere (i.e. wear sarongs if you’ve been to Bali, or Hawaiian shirts with cocktails with drinks umbrellas in them , do a 1970’s theme). The options are limitless.
  • Turning an ordinary walk into a Sensory Walk. Be observant, point out the changes in the trees, talk to passing cats, pick up fallen leaves and work out what tree they came from, pick pleasant smelling flowers and greenery along the way, observe houses (make up stories about who lives there), look out for teddy bears in windows. When you get home arrange your stolen greenery and together work out where to put it in the house.
  • Go on holiday again through your photograph albums, coffee table books, maps and google photos.
  • Take turns to read aloud your passages from your favourite books, short stories, poems, prose, limericks. Take well known and remembered books and turn it into a game of who can remember all the characters names and actions.

This whole lockdown will be more fun for all of us if we seek out everyday activities and turn them into something special.