If you’re a caregiver to an older adult suffering from dementia, whether in a facility setting or one-on-one at home with a loved one, there’s an extra special place in heaven reserved for people like you! Caring for someone with dementia can be emotionally and physically exhausting to the caregiver as well as the person being cared for. How do you keep older adults actively engaged in life, enjoying day-to-day life to the fullest, even when they can no longer communicate their preferences and desires to you?
Robin Dill, author and blogger, is the founder and former director of Grace Arbor in Lawrenceville, Georgia. She travels the country training caregivers on ways to engage older adults in the activities that keep them engaged in life, helps them thrive and live longer, and generally makes life better for both caregiver and care receiver. Robin recently brought her training to the leadership staff at Wesley Place on Honeysuckle, a continuum of care retirement community in Dothan, AL. Here are some of Robin’s keys to engaging senior adults with dementia in activities.
KNOW WHO THEY WERE THEN
It is very important to get to know the person who has dementia. This involves knowing the person’s history. What degree does he have? Was she active in her church? What was his occupation? What were her hobbies or interests? How did he used to spend time before dementia robbed him of the ability to engage in that activity on his own? These clues will help set the stage for discovering what types of activities are likely to have meaning and significance to that person to stimulate interest.
KNOW WHO THEY ARE NOW
In addition to knowing who he/she was in the past, you need to get to know the person now. What are his physical limitations? Are there triggers that cause her stress or anxiety? That doesn’t mean that because somebody is arthritic that they can’t do such-and-such activity, or because they have dementia they can’t do this activity. Instead, look for a way to be able to do that activity with them and help them be successful.
USE INVITATION TO ENCOURAGE ACTIVITY
Making choices is very challenging for people with dementia because people with dementia have a huge challenge of self-initiating. Perhaps the person is incapable of making a decision, which can sometimes be misinterpreted as disinterest in an activity. Instead of asking a person with dementia if they want to participate in an activity, Robin teaches caregivers to use invitation to engage them in the activity. Caregivers should initiate an activity that is likely to be desirable to that person and then invite the person to join them.
PLAN WELL, BUT ALSO BE SPONTANEOUS
Robin teaches that it is important to have the necessary supplies for planned activities on hand to make them more successful, and not be scrambling for items last minute. But activities can also be spontaneous. Did the person you are caring for used sing in the church choir, and you love to sing? Pull old songs up on YouTube and sing your heart out together. Do you like the outdoors and the person you are caring for used to go birdwatching? Explore the backyard together or take a walk in a nearby public park. Find out how to take your own gifts, talents, and interests and marry them to the gifts, talents and interests of the person with dementia. These special connections can bring significant feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment to both the caregiver and the care receiver!
REMEMBER THE GOLDEN RULE
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Robin challenges caregivers in retirement communities to ask themselves, “If you found yourself as a resident of this facility, would you want to be there?” How would you want to be treated you if you could not communicate your feeling and desires? Learn to take ownership in the caregiving experience by putting yourself in the care receiver’s place.
As a dementia and Alzheimer’s care provider in Dothan, Wesley Place on Honeysuckle is interested in educating family members and the community about dementia and its signs, symptoms and available caregiver support. For more information or to tour our dementia care communities, call the marketing team at 334-792-0921.