january 1, 2024

Living with Dementia

The importance of Purpose

Older adult woman sorting laundry

One of the obstacles that commonly accompanies a dementia diagnosis is the loss of a sense of purpose.  Once diagnosed, individuals often experience a sense of helplessness, lack of identity, boredom, and depression. They know that their condition is progressive and some may just give up. However, for people living with dementia, finding and engaging in meaningful activities can provide a sense of purpose, cognitive stimulation, comfort, and an opportunity to remain connected with others.

Research has shown that having a sense of purpose is therapeutic for people living with dementia. Though dementia can limit certain abilities, people often fall into the trap of learned helplessness, and begin to underestimate their capabilities. This feeling of helplessness can lead to an actual decline in abilities and undermines the sense of purpose that contributes to one’s wellbeing. There’s a balance to be found between offering help while encouraging self-sufficiency and independence.

Meaning in life can come from a variety of things, such as role continuation. Relationships can help preserve physical and mental health. In addition to relationships, it’s extremely beneficial to help a person with dementia stay as self-sufficient as possible. Many of those diagnosed with dementia struggle with feelings that they’ve become a burden. Even a simple chore or task can help people with dementia feel useful. This can include things like folding laundry, organizing, cutting out magazine photos, or making a collage. It may take some time and experimentation to come up with activities that are neither too difficult nor too simple (such that they offend your loved one), but once figured out, the results can be priceless.

Tips for Creating Meaningful Activities

Be flexible. Your loved one will likely have both good and bad days. Sometimes they will have a lot of energy for activities, and on other days they may need to do something less taxing. Be flexible and take each day as it comes.

Focus on activities that can provide a tangible outcome. This might include making or creating things together. The sense of engagement and satisfaction can be very high in this type of activity. Some examples include making a birdhouse, threading beads, baking together, decorating the house, etc.

Promote relaxation. Sometimes people with dementia experience peaks of anxiety and tension. They may also be unable to take part in physical activities. This doesn’t mean they’ve lost their capacity for enjoyment. Relax through music, sunlight, sitting by the fire, etc. Soft scents and gentle touches can also be calming.

Know your loved one’s daily rhythms. People move through the disease in their own way. Be alert to signs that an activity may be causing stress or frustration. Be open to modifying activities or changing things up. Are there certain noises that bother your loved one? Are there certain times of the day that are better for this activity?

Remember that the goal is engagement, not the activity itself. The important thing is that the person with dementia stays connected and engaged in the activity. Worry less about the end product. People in the middle and late stage of dementia are not always capable of understanding the goal, so help them enjoy the process by being in the moment.

Do not underestimate the value of visits from loved ones, children, and pets. These visits often touch people with dementia very deeply and bring them immense pleasure and comfort.

Sample Activities That Can Help Cultivate a Sense of Purposes

  • Timeline or Biography (perhaps in the form of an album or scrapbook) – Typically, people with dementia more easily recall events from decades ago than what they did last week. Additionally, doing long-lasting projects like these are intrinsically rewarding and provide a sense of satisfaction.
  • Music – Play popular music from your loved one’s era. This almost never fails to please.
  • Beach Ball/ Balloon Toss – Kick or hit the ball/balloon back and forth with your loved one. This is beneficial in several ways. It creates movement, and you’ll be surprised by how much your loved one enjoys the challenge.
  • Matching Shapes or Pictures – This is a fun game that combines thinking skills and sensory stimulation. You can even use a deck of playing cards.
  • Sorting – Have your loved one sort colored pom-poms or other items into containers of the same color.
  • Revisiting Tasks from the Past – A carpenter, may enjoying sanding a small piece of wood, a homemaker may enjoy arranging pots or helping you with the cooking, and so on.
  • Reminiscing – People with dementia often retain long term memories even as the illness progresses. Reminisce about school, past trips and experiences, birthdays, recipes, etc.
  • Artistic Pursuits – The options are endless and can truly lift your loved one’s mood. They simulate imagination and offer genuine enjoyment. Some examples include molding clay, writing, creating collages, scrapbooking, and painting.
  • Routine Activities – These can help provide meaning and self-worth. Examples include making the bed, watering plants, organizing purses, sorting jewelry, buttoning a shirt, setting the table, putting on makeup, or cleaning out a drawer.

Ultimately, one of the keys to navigating the challenges posed by a dementia diagnosis lies in the discovery of meaningful activities. Pursuing this path is undeniably worthwhile, providing valuable benefits to both you and your loved one.

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Winter Growth’s founder dreamed of creating a community where seniors and adults with disabilities could continue to learn and grow – filling their lives with joy and purpose. For over 40 years, we have fulfilled her vision by providing unique, affordable Assisted Living/Memory Care and Adult Medical Day Care tailored to our clients’ individual abilities, interests, and lives.