Meaningful activities for those living with dementia

Meaningful Activities for Those Living with Dementia

Article by 

Maree McCabe

Dementia can affect a person’s ability to think, remember and communicate. People’s abilities can vary greatly, and staying involved and active in the things they enjoy is important.

Meaningful activities can help maintain communication and social engagement, as well as support living positively with dementia.

Many people will continue to engage in meaningful activities independently by developing and using strategies, routines, and support to meet their needs.

Some people may need help to work out how to continue to participate in things they enjoy. Rather than giving up hobbies, interests or activities that are becoming challenging, it may be possible to modify these sorts of menaingful activities or take up new ones.

Support from family, carers and friends can be a great help. Allied health professionals, such as an occupational therapist, can also assist in planning and adapting meaningful activities.

Tips to help you plan meaningful activities for those living with dementia

Aim for activities that:

  • Maintain the person’s skills
  • Compensate for any activities they can no longer do
  • Promote self-esteem and empower them
  • Stimulate the mind and encourage new learning
  • Provide enjoyment, pleasure and social contact
  • Are sensitive to a person’s cultural background
  • Are fun

Consider what makes the person unique:

  • Former lifestyle
  • Work history and skills
  • Hobbies
  • Recreational and social interests
  • Travel experiences
  • Significant life events

Activities can be pleasurable and relaxing

It’s important to keep enjoying anything which makes life meaningful, or that is pleasurable or relaxing.

Many people enjoy creative hobbies such as playing a musical instrument, knitting, or painting. Others enjoy social contact, so it is important to keep this up as much as possible.

A person with dementia may enjoy an outing even if they may not remember where they have been. What is most important is that they enjoy themselves.

Simple and unhurried activities are best

When you’re doing an activity, it may help to give the person the time and space they need to enjoy activities at their own pace, focus on one thing at a time and break down activities into simple and manageable steps.

Be aware of surroundings

Some people with dementia find that being among large groups of people can be overwhelming. If this is the case, avoid crowds, constant movement, and noise.

Create an emotional outlet

Activities can be used to prompt positive feelings or recall treasured memories. Some activities that help to do this include:

  • Singing favourite songs together or making individual recordings
  • Arranging visits with pets
  • Including babies, children, or young adults in the activity
  • Looking through old photos, memorabilia, and favourite books
  • Finding picture books and magazines on subjects that interest the person

Focus on movement and rhythm – they are often retained longer than most abilities

To get moving, you could:

  • Hire an exercise bike or walking machine
  • Watch or be part of dance or exercise classes
  • Join a walking group or walk a dog together
  • Go for a swim

Outdoor activities allow the person to enjoy being outside, while also getting exercise.

Engaging someone who has changed behaviours

It is important to know what helps to calm or divert a person when they are restless or distressed. This information can be particularly helpful for support and respite workers and could be noted in a care plan.

Be encouraging

Someone can live positively with dementia, despite challenges that may be faced along the way. Mistakes can happen, so be reassuring. Encourage the person to keep trying and engaging in activities that give them purpose, pleasure, and relaxation. It’s also important to encourage activities that provide mental stimulation and promote better health and wellbeing.

Visit www.dementia.org.au for more information and to download the Dementia Guide. The National Dementia Helpline operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted on 1800 100 500. 

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