Moments of Joy

Alzheimer’s and other dementias are devastating diseases. Overtime, the person with the illness gradually loses their ability to perform many complex, and even once familiar, tasks. However, when a person receives their diagnosis, there is still much life to be lived and to enjoy – the person can still offer profound contributions in love, family, and life. So much of who we are is not our ability to remember facts, but it is how we love and feel from day-to-day, moment-to-moment. These moments of joy are still accessible to the person, even very late into the disease. The person with dementia may be living with their disease for years, or even decades. Therefore, it is beneficial for us as caregivers to develop effective strategies for engaging the person and evoking moments of joy and accomplishment. We must be prepared to offer more guidance, support and supervision to the person as their disease progresses, and it is essential that we practice our ability to be sensitive, patient, and positive in our work with the person.

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Offer support and supervision
You may need to show the person how to perform the activity and provide simple, step-by-step directions.

Concentrate on the process, not the result
Does it matter if the towels are folded properly? Not really. What matters is that you were able to spend time together, and the person feels as if he or she has done something useful.

Be flexible
When the person insists that he or she doesn’t want to do something, it may be because he or she can’t do it or fears doing it. Don’t force it. If the person insists on doing something a different way, let it happen and change it later if necessary.

Be realistic and relaxed
Don’t be concerned about filling every minute of the day with an activity. The person with Alzheimer’s needs a balance of activity and rest, and may need more frequent breaks and varied tasks.

Help get the activity started
Most people with dementia still have the energy and desire to do things but may lack the ability to organize, plan, initiate and successfully complete the task.

Break activities into simple, easy-to-follow steps
Focus on one task at a time. Too many directions at once often overwhelm a person with dementia.

Assist with difficult parts of the task
If you’re cooking and the person can’t measure the ingredients, finish the measuring and say, “Would you please stir this for me?”

Let the individual know he or she is needed
Ask, “Could you please help me?” Be careful, however, not to place too many demands upon the person.

Make the connection
If you ask the person to make a card, he or she may not respond. But if you say that you’re sending a special get-well card to a friend and invite him or her to join you, the person may enjoy working on the task.

Don’t criticize or correct the person
If the person enjoys a harmless activity, even if it seems insignificant or meaningless to you, encourage the person to continue.

Encourage self expression
Include activities that allow the person a chance for expression. These types of activities could include painting, drawing, music or conversation.

Involve the person through conversation
While you’re polishing shoes, washing the car or cooking dinner, talk to the person about what you’re doing. Even if the person cannot respond, he or she is likely to benefit from your communication.

Substitute an activity for a behavior
If a person with dementia rubs his or her hand on a table, put a cloth in his or her hand and encourage the person to wipe the table. Or, if the person is moving his or her feet on the floor, play some music so he or she can tap them to the beat.

Try again later
If something isn’t working, it may just be the wrong time of day or the activity may be too complicated. Try again later or adapt the activity.

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