They Have Dementia, What Can They Do?
By: Michelle Remold
Recently I overheard a conversation about someone’s family member who had dementia. They were discussing how they disliked that their loved one seemingly spent all day in their room. One of the people appeared to pacify this concern they had by stating, “They have dementia, what else can they do?” This statement shocked me, but sadly this wasn’t the first time I have heard a statement similar to this. In the past I have been asked if I had activity ideas for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia because this person simply didn’t know what to do with them. I think that it is sad that people think just because they have dementia or Alzheimer’s the person is destined to spend their days just sitting in their rooms, when the reality is that any stimulation is good.
I have a plethora of activity ideas for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. I think that it is often overlooked how basic the stimulation can be. I have taken people down to play BINGO, sometimes they would have moments where they seemed understand the game, but most of the time they didn’t. I also have become increasingly comfortable sitting and just talking with them. Sometimes I am not sure how much I am saying is understood, but it’s better than nothing. When I would take my memory program to facilities while still at the University of Northern Iowa, staff would often tell me who would and wouldn’t participate in the discussions. It often happened that the people I was told wouldn’t talk, would participate in the discussion. It didn’t always pertain to what we were talking about, but it solicited a response. My group members and I would listen contentedly and respond, sometimes more people joined in and we had great discussions going. Occasionally some visual aids or our beach ball would get a reaction from some people. I remember at one facility we had a package of pencils and everyone was intrigued by them. We talked with the activity director and everyone left with a pencil.
It doesn’t have to be complex activities to stimulate people. It could be a conversation, puzzles, a book, music, games, and so many more other activities that can prove stimulating to different people. Any sensory motor activities are great. I don’t think there are any limits to the activities that can be offered to those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, sometimes you just need to be accommodating. Instead of stating, “They have dementia what else can they do?” I would pose this question instead, “What activities can I do that would provide them with the stimulation they need?”
Michelle graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with her Bachelor of Arts in Gerontology: Social Sciences and a minor in Family Studies. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Aging Studies and Nursing Home Administration from Minnesota State University Mankato.