If you have a loved one who has dementia, spending quality time and finding meaningful ways to engage with them as their dementia progresses, is of utmost importance. Whilst the rate of dementia progression varies from person to person, it can be challenging to know how and when to engage.
Dr. Shadi Gholizadeh, the Director of Memory Care at Home Care Assistance and our internal dementia care expert, has provided some practical strategies that caregivers can use to keep their loved ones supported and engaged.
Know the Person
Rather than use a one-size-fits-all approach, we need to style our care and adapt activities that are important to your loved one. Consider their life to date, what their values are, what is meaningful to them, and what routines they’ve always had. If they have always gone for a daily walk, incorporate that into their day. Maybe they’ve always baked, encourage a baking activity and be conscious that they may not want to sit on the sidelines, but be actively involved.
You may, depending on where your loved one is in their dementia journey, frame a Care Worker as an Activity Director or their own Personal Assistant, especially if that is something they would have appreciated.
Encourage a Sense of Purpose
Choosing activities that are aligned to what your loved one values are important for their sense of purpose. If you play music during the day, consider playing songs that your loved one listened to when they were younger.
In Dr. Gholizadeh’s words, you want to “optimise the odds that a person will be open to dementia care.” Doing thoughtful activities that bring meaning will contribute to their overall satisfaction with life. Your loved one may have been a teacher; can you frame your care and get them to be involved in an activity that involves teaching someone else? Look for opportunities to encourage a sense of purpose and create added meaning in their life.
Consider the Environment
There will be good and bad days when caring for a loved one with dementia. Some days they will respond well to an activity and then other days they won’t. Don’t feel disheartened and instead look at the environment for any clues into subtle changes that may have occurred for them to have a difference in response.
Has the weather changed and the temperature as a result? Is there too much background noise or is the room too bright? Don’t discount small environmental changes having a profound impact on someone with dementia.
Focus on Engagement
As a carer, there is often pressure to organise formal activities. This isn’t always necessary. Instead, striking the right balance between under and overstimulation is key, whilst allowing plenty of rest times. Looking for engagement opportunities that can be incorporated into the day-to-day rhythms of life can be as simple as helping fold the laundry to being involved in the cooking.
Often people with dementia withdraw if they’re told that they are wrong, or if they feel coerced into participating into an activity that is difficult or tiring. Don’t feel guilty if your loved one spends some time watching the TV, as everyone needs to relax and recharge.
Be Flexible and Curious
Don’t let fear of failure hold you back from experimenting and trying new things with your loved one. Dr. Gholizadeh has shared that one of the most important questions in dementia care is “How do we help a person’s world not feel so small?” By trying something new, the person’s world can be expanded, and if it doesn’t work so be it. By focusing less on outcomes and preconceived goals, you will remove expectations and see the bigger picture.
Providing Care Later in the Dementia Cycle
No matter how far along the dementia journey your loved one is, it is still important to take a strengths-based approach. There are always pathways to connection. By understanding their values, background and what is meaningful to them you can try new things to engage.
Familiar sounds, smells and textures are powerful in connecting. Even if someone can’t hold a conversation, there are non-verbal cues to see if what you’re doing is engaging. Just remember to have realistic expectations of what they can achieve.
Validation Theory is also a useful communication strategy for people who have dementia including in the later stages to convey empathy and improve quality of life. You can read more about Validation Theory here.
About Dr. Shadi Gholizadeh
Dr. Gholizadeh earned a Bachelors in Psychology at Standford University, a Masters in Social and Cultural Psychology at the London School of Economics, and her MPH and PhD in a joint program at SDSU and UC San Diego. As the Director of Memory Care at Home Care Assistance, Dr. Gholizadeh is compassionate and her approach to dementia care is holistic and deeply humanising.
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As a leading age care provider, Home Care Assistance offers tailored in-home care services for older Australians, enabling them to live happier and healthier lives in the comfort of their own homes.
We offer private and government subsidised Care Packages and have office locations that are a registered NDIS provider. Our Care Workers undergo extensive training in order to deliver unmatched in-home aged care services where people can continue ageing in place. We are proud ambassadors of the My Aged Care government funded aged care program, enabling Australians to successfully navigate the process and gain approval for in-home care support packages. Home Care Assistance offers hourly care, specialised care, Alzheimer’s and Dementia care, hospital to home care, and 24 hour in home care.