Keeping people with dementia active and occupied
Supporting a person who has dementia to remain active and still feel involved in life can be the key to maintaining quality of life even into the later stages of the illness. This is not just the job of an activity organiser or an entertainer, it is also part of every person’s role, whether you are a friend or relative, a home or day care worker, a nurse, a care assistant, a manager or a domestic worker.
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Why activity matters
An activity can be anything we do from the moment we get up in the morning to when we go to bed at night. Helping a person remain active is the job of every person in the care team. Activity is essential to human wellbeing, and will help maintain a person's sense of self-worth and give purpose and enjoyment to the day. Sometimes, when a person says 'no' to being involved in an activity, we have to think of different ways of engaging their interest.
Activity as part of the whole day
If we know a person with dementia well and are prepared to be creative, we can change a routine care task into a positive experience for that person. Have objects at hand that can be picked up and touched and used to stimulate conversation. Develop a range of activities that stimulates all five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Record involvement in an activity in individual care plans.
People with dementia often communicate in words that have a poetic quality, rich in feeling and meaning. Singing is usually a very successful activity for people with dementia who may remember words of songs when other memories have been lost. Music offers people a chance to express themselves in different ways, less reliant on words. People who have dementia can enjoy activities involving drama, although we as staff may need to develop our confidence in giving this a go!
Movement and exercise
Think about the things the person can still do for themselves: promote independence whenever you can. Getting out and about provides fresh air, variety in the day and exercise. Dancing can help improve overall wellbeing.
Activity resources and approaches
A number of different approaches and resources offer helpful ways to develop meaningful activity and improve quality of life for people with dementia. Simple assessment tools can help staff to understand the types of activities that might benefit a person with dementia. Using dolls in dementia care is generally considered to be very helpful particularly for individuals in the later stages of dementia.
Involving family and friends
Care workers have a role to play in working alongside family carers and friends to bring activity into the daily life of a person with dementia. Some friends and family struggle with thinking of things to do with the person whether at home or when visiting a care home, even though they know the person so well. Families and friends may need support from care staff to encourage a person with dementia to become involved and help them cope with and enjoy visits to a care home.
Activity in the later stages of dementia
It is still possible to provide activity for a person in the later stages of dementia. We may need to try different communication approaches when trying to connect with a person who is very withdrawn. Care workers and family members will need a lot of support to persevere in trying to connect with a person who may be unresponsive. A multisensory approach to activity is even more important with people in the advanced stages of the illness.
Developing community links
There are many benefits for older people and for staff teams in developing relationships with the wider community. Making links with the community does take time and energy. Many individuals and organisations in the community are willing to visit or bring resources into a care setting. Good preparation is key to any organised trip out or a visit from an outside organisation.
Culture and religion
It is very important to pay attention to a person's cultural or religious background when planning activities. People with dementia who do not speak English will need particular support to feel included. Cultural diversity can be celebrated through themed events in a day centre or a care home. Family members may want a person's religious or cultural background to be respected even though the person has changed their views, and this can be a challenging situation for everyone.
Reminiscing about the past builds on the strengths of a person with dementia as they are more likely to retain long-term memories. There are many ways to facilitate reminiscence sessions. Involving family members in reminiscence can be a therapeutic experience for everyone. When choosing topics or themes for reminiscence in groups, think about ways in which you can include as many people as possible, while also being sensitive to the needs of individuals.
Using ICT in activities for people with dementia
This is a short introduction to using information and communication technology (ICT) in activities for people with dementia. It is aimed at managers and staff in the care sector, and those who organise activities for people with dementia. It is a plain language guide about using mainstream technologies – you don't need to be technically minded.
Access and download additional resources
Useful links Open
The Alzheimer’s Society produces over 80 factsheets on all sorts of topics related to dementia, including Staying involved and active (505), Exercise and physical activity (529), and Mobility strategies. The Society’s website also includes Dementia Connect, a webpage for searching for information about local services and support groups for people with dementia and carers.
Arts 4 Dementia
This charity works with arts organisations around the UK to develop opportunities for people with dementia and their carers to participate in a wide range of arts activities. Arts 4 Dementia offers training for arts facilitators, advice, online resources and seminars.
As easy as ABC: Care UK’s top 100 hints and tips for activity-based care
Care UK’s activity teams share what they have found to be helpful when supporting people with dementia in everyday activities, arts and crafts, maintaining independence, special occasions, health and wellbeing, and reminiscence.
Living well through activity in care homes
This free online resource from the College of Occupational Therapists sets out a wide range of practical ideas on how to support care home residents to continue day-to-day activities that are important to them. The resource includes free training materials and audit tools to review and evidence aspects of care such as personalisation and choice.
Using ICT in activities for people with dementia
This 2012 SCIE guide covers a wide range of practical issues, such as ‘Getting the right kit’, ‘Introducing ICTs to people with dementia’, ‘ICTs in reminiscence and life story activities’, and ‘ICTs in creative and entertainment activities’.