How can I learn about more stimulating activities for Alzheimer's patients who are less independent?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 22, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I've recently visited two facilities specializing in care/activities for dementia/alzheimer's patients and am discovering that there are specific things that can/should be offered to help keep a person engaged and entertained. Things such as providing a box with separators and objects to be sorted, a bassinet with baby dolls, clothes and blankets to be arranged and re-arranged. Engaging the senses by offering to rub lotion on hands and arms and making delicious smelling buttery flavored popcorn each afternoon. Where can I find out more-perhaps something that would be good for me to do for my father? How can I present these ideas to the assisted living facility where my father lives? I find that there are activities offered are only for the ones who can and will get themselves there and are able to participate fully. There is nothing for the ones who are less independent.

Expert Answers

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

Thank you for bringing up this topic. It's one of my pet peeves.

It's ironic that the advances in creative activity programming happen almost entirely in Alzheimer's facilities. Many progressive homes serving this population use the Montessori approach, which encourages individual exploration and creativity, as well as social interaction. You've mentioned some basics that have become standard for an Alzheimer's community: the bassinet, baby dolls, things to sort or fold or touch at will.

Why do we assume that cognitively able people don't need things to do? It may come from our collective notions of retirement as sitting back, sipping a cool drink, putting up our feet and enjoying the sunset; in other words: doing nothing. That's fine for a short vacation, but year in, year out?

The biggest problem in the majority of facilities is the preplanned activity schedule that has little to do with residents' individual interests or desires. The programs are put together to satisfy state regulations and for the convenience of staff and management. In almost all cases the schedule is laid out at the beginning of the month with little opportunity for residents to give their input. Consequently, most schedules are as bland as bologna, meant to displease no-one.

Most assisted living facilities will offer entertainment and other passive activities. When I look at programs from three highly rated (and expensive) facilities, I find the only events that "challenge" participants are "chair-exercises" and Bingo, with ONE hour a week of arts and crafts. Human beings need intellectual stimulation, purpose and challenges to keep our spirits and brains alive. Residents may be around the same age: OLD, but they all have individual interests. The typical care facility, whether it's a nursing home or a private pay home, has a maximum of six hours of activities a day, leaving residents with nothing to do the rest of the time. For instance, the person who likes to explore arts, crafts, writing, or photography has to wait for that one hour a week set aside for that purpose. During the rest of the time anything that could inspire his creativity is packed away. When you walk through a facility, everything looks neat and proper "“ and void of inspiration. Imagine a house that's always perfectly orderly with everything put away? I daresay that I would be concerned about that family's mental health. Let's worry less about "appearances" to outsiders and more about the emotional wellbeing of the insiders, our residents.

Every facility ought to have at least one public area stocked with "stuff" for the residents to use at will. The residents must be involved in program design and decision-making. Maria Montessori said the following, speaking of children, but it's true at any age: "The individual is considered as a whole. The physical, emotional, social, aesthetic, spiritual, and cognitive needs and interests are inseparable and equally important."

While you're campaigning to change the program at your father's facility, you might find some ideas at this website: