Individuality is the key to creating dementia care that is meaningful and engaging for individuals and their families.
Every individual has their own interests and abilities and that doesn’t change with a diagnosis of dementia. In fact, I would say that those unique traits hold the key to effective dementia care.
We may just feel in our gut that a personalized and unique approach is the right way to engage with each person but it is also being backed up by scientific research.
Research suggest that individuals suffering from dementia find meaningful and engaging activities important in a number of key ways including:
Filling a void.
When an individual is suffering from dementia, self-motivation becomes extremely difficult. If the individual is left to themselves they will do nothing and their day will become empty. This emptiness can lead to discouragement and depression, a downward spiral that is difficult to interrupt.
The apathy often expressed by individuals suffering from dementia can be a great source of sadness for family members. So the caregiver is left with a challenge: to fill that space with meaningful interactions that will reduce apathy. This can be difficult to do but will bring rewards in the long run. [See Enable Family Program]
Maintaining social roles.
Roles often shift when an individual is diagnosed with dementia. The individual who once was the leader and decision-maker in the family finds themselves diminished and shunted aside.
Often individuals find they are treated like children instead of adults. This can be very detrimental to their feelings of self-worth. Meaningful and engaging activities where the individual is encouraged to shine helps them maintain their societal and family role.
Even though an individual is having difficulty with memory or with expressing themselves, they still have a need to maintain their roles….particularly the role of an adult.
Enable positive expression.
It is important for every individual, whether suffering from dementia or not, to have an opportunity to positively express themselves. This can be in the form of creative arts, like music or painting, or through engaging in discussion with others. [See blog post: I Remember Better When I Paint]
Opportunities to express how you are feeling about events – both past and present – can help you form deep and lasting friendships with others. [See blog post: She Called Me By Name]
Can you imagine not being able to do what you’ve always done with ease?
It must be so frustrating to feel the effects of dementia start to cloud your thinking and your ability to process information. Bringing meaningful and engaging activities to your day is an obvious way to reduce these frustrations.
We all need opportunities to express ourselves and to fill our days with positive interactions with another human being. This doesn’t change with a dementia diagnosis.
It reminds me of an email that was making the rounds in 2007. It was from Richard Taylor, the author of Alzheimer’s from the Inside Out. The email was a very compelling plea to treat him as a whole person and ended with this:
Hands up in the audience if you are trying to help me be all I can be for as long as I can be? Who wants to help enable me to be as much as I want, as much as I can , as much as I should be right now, and every tomorrow until the day I die?
I really believe this attitude and approach is essential.
Every individual, wherever they are at on their life’s journey, remains the mother, father, sister, brother, spouse to their family members. For individuals who are suffering from some form of dementia or other cognitive impairment, this means creating a positive environment where they will continue to be all they can be.
[Check out our Fit Minds Programs]
Enhance continuity of self-identity and feelings of connectedness.
Continuing to maintain and grow relationships with family and friends is important for all of us and for individuals with dementia it has a great potential to promote his or her well-being. Meaningful activities can go a long way to creating and supporting a positive relationship.
One example of this was the Tailored Activity Program (TAPS) which was developed and studied at the Thomas Jefferson University’s Centre for Applied Research on Aging and Health (CARAH). They successfully developed activity plans based on the interests and capabilities of individuals with dementia. Families were trained to use the activities to engage and calm the patient.
Patients and caregiver outcomes measured positively after using the program. To quote the study’s authors: “TAP represents an intervention that resonates with the most profound concerns of families – that of meaningfully engaging individuals with dementia, preserving their quality of life and managing challenging behaviors.”
We have also had similar experiences with our Fit Minds Interact programming. Family members have reported being able to reconnect with their loved ones and professional caregivers have seen a reduction in difficult behaviour.
Choosing activities that are meaningful to the individual based on past interests and capabilities will go a long way to reducing agitation and will allow the caregiver to maintain more independence and engagement with the outside world.
One of our first decisions at Fit Minds was that our programs would be delivered by human beings – not computers. So we are looking for committed individuals to become certified and offer the Interact Individual program to those they care for.
I believe that each person in unique, with a unique personality and perspective that impacts their lives with dementia. That is why at Fit Minds we create personalized programming.
I don’t want to sound like I’m on my soap box – but I believe passionately in this approach. It’s a soap box I’m happy to stand on.