Dementia impinges and intrudes upon the well being and quality of life of those who are afflicted; not only does it affect memory but it affects behavior and other senses resulting in a diminished sense of identity and causing individuals to withdraw from activities, family and friends.
Often times, drug intervention is the final destination for those with memory illness as practitioners attempt to calm difficult behaviors associated with decline; attempt to slow progression of symptoms while trying to maintain quality of life.
Finding the balance between drug and behavioral intervention is critical to mind and body, as they are responsive to the care we give them. Family members, caregivers, and clinicians, whether at home or at an assisted living community, play vital roles in creating an environment that is both nurturing and secure.
Activity programs, such as the one implemented at Neville Place Compass Memory Support Neighborhood, are meant to stimulate and engage. Activities revolving around social engagement, lifelong learning, and exercise improve and nourish the happiness, dignity and souls of our residents.
When creating an activity guide of your own, it is important to keep in mind that it should serve as a flexible outline of what the day could include. Structure is key however you should remain thoughtful of the residents moods and energies. Adjusting your activity plan becomes easier as you explore and experiment!
Here are 4 activities that best engage our residents:
Boom Boom Pow, A Game Of Combat.
Yes, thundersticks are used as noise makers for sporting events. However, these inflatable spirit bangers make incredible balloon lances for the game my ladies refer to as “Combat”. If I had to pick my favorite activity, this would be it. I first introduced this game after an expressive arts session; the gals were sitting around the table finishing artwork and puzzles when I made the switch. I gave them two sticks, one per hand, and put two round balloons in the center of the table. The explanation was simple: hit the ballon with the sticks. After starting, it was an easy pick up. A few of the residents were laughing while others became so focused on performing that they stood up to get a better advantage. Two of the residents even started playfully jabbing at one another. This is a game of no winners or losers, just a simple game of fun!
Don’t Step On My Blue Suede Shoes
Elvis was a shadow in the background of my life before I met the Compass residents. I uncovered an ambiguous Elvis CD under an overwhelming “greatest hits” and “best of” holiday and Elton John themed stack. Exhausted after the winter holiday “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas”, I popped Elvis 75 into the player and pressed play. Rock ’n’ roll music filled the room and my residents responded immediately. This captivating vocalist had me and the girls swooning, singing and clapping. As the ballads continued, a few ladies entertained the rest of the group by dancing. Elvis had a voice extraordinary in quality, range and power; it was and still is soulful and I could feel his melodies uplifting my energy as well as the residents!
The point I am trying to make here is that music is an excellent way to reach beyond the disease and to the person. When used in an appropriate manner, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions and facilitate cognitive function. If you are in need of an alternative to CDs, consider musicals such as Grease, The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz.
Build On The Present And Trigger The Happy Past
Neville holds monthly “Grab Your Passport” events in which residents and staff are immersed in a foreign countries culture, history and arts via cuisine, costumes, entertainment and decorations. I enjoy attending these events because it sparks discussion and reminiscence between residents. If you are looking for something smaller, try creating themed sensory events such as aromatherapy, pet therapy, or ice cream bar. Any activity relating to photography, the arts, music and cuisine can easily engage a resident. Pleasure is often derived from different types of sensory experiences and stimulating multiple senses can reinforce links to a person’s sense of belonging and help maintain connections. For instance, the resident pictured above, Sally (middle), works well with paint and markers. Art therapy is a big part of Sally’s daily activities. You can catch her at nearly all times during the day creating her masterpieces. I think that this is calming for her and I encourage it when she is feeling down.
Giving Virtual Reality A Go
People over 65 are traditionally thought to be less-experienced with technology when compared to younger adults. This is in part due to decline in perceptual, motor and cognitive function as caused by natural aging and disease. However, technology that is designed to fit an individual’s preferences and capabilities has the potential to promote curiosity, social connectedness and life-long learning. I found this to hold true with my Compass residents when I introduced a few of them to the virtual reality platform provided by Rendever. I first tried it out with Martha, carefully explaining what the headset was and what she would see in it. I picked an activity guide involving animals to follow knowing she was very fond over them; she was immediately intrigued by the environment she was immersed in. I talked her through it, asking her what she noticed and how she felt. Martha told me she never experienced anything like it and could not help but smile the whole way through. When it ended, she asked me if she would be able to try it again soon. And of course, we did!
What I liked most about using virtual reality with my residents, was how this was a shared experience between myself and an individual, giving us time to build on our connection and trust and sharing directly in one another’s delight. I also appreciated how Rendever’s platform made the outside world more accessible to my residents without being too complex to use or too distracting to the user.
Reflecting on this post, the take away point is that these activities we exercise with the residents are therapeutic; they are often innovative and always valuable, allowing them to have experiences that are fun and emotionally freeing. Activities should be tailored to resident’s physical abilities, cognitive functioning levels and emotional needs; despite a dementia diagnosis, individuals can still recall memories and emotions, and learn! Have fun creating your activity schedule and do not stress if you have to make changes along the way. While finding never-ending joy may be difficult, finding happiness within the moment is an easier practice!