Years ago, I worked as an activity director at a county home in Butler, Mo. There I learned about adapting hobbies to meet changing abilities. Albert taught me that even when you can’t grip a domino, you can still enjoy the game. Every Wednesday, we dropped him off at the town square for his weekly session. A friend helped him place the pieces and he often won. Sadie taught me the power of memorizing poetry. Though she could no longer see the world around her, she enriched her inner world by memorizing dozens of verses. Visiting her was like opening a book of best-loved poems. The residents all taught me the joy of sitting around a table together, working on a project. Even if the project didn’t work out the way we envisioned, the energy and camaraderie did.
Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to offer a presentation on engaging through creative activities for the National Association of Activity Professionals. These professionals are so vital in helping people stay creative and connected throughout the dementia journey. We were inspired by their depth of knowledge, compassion, and eagerness to learn.
As part of our presentation, we discussed adapting hobbies to meet changing abilities. We shared ideas from Connecting in the Land of Dementia, and our participants offered ideas from their experiences. Here are some tips for adapting hobbies:
Ask yourself: What does the person love most about doing this activity? What are the most important components for them?
For example, for gardeners, is it the feel of their hands in the soil? Is it producing flowers or harvesting vegetables? Is it having something to take care of? Or is it the ritual coffee and cookies enjoyed after the work is done?
For those who like quilting, is it the finished product or making the squares? Is it the companionship with other quilters? Or the texture and colors of the fabric?
For scrapbookers, do they enjoy looking through photos or gluing pictures on the page? Do they like leafing through magazines and cutting out pertinent words and pictures or adding stickers and other playful accents. Or maybe it’s the companionship of working together.
By gathering answers to these types of questions, you can break down the activity’s components and encourage people living with dementia to keep pursuing their interests.
If you have ideas for adapting activities, we’d love to hear about them. For more information on the NAAP, visit https://naap.info/
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
My mother had been an artist in her later years, but she stopped painting when she began living with memory loss. Instead, she took comfort in listening to music and in nurturing a baby doll. Ron’s dad studied architecture as a young man, but never had the leisure time to pursue drawing or art. When he moved into a memory care community, he flourished in the Memories in the Making painting program. We worked hard to find care homes that nurtured our parents and my background in healthcare helped us develop a few insider’s tips for analyzing activities programs.
“Families need to share information about favorite hobbies and they also need to be ready for their loved one to try new things and possibly change interests,” says Alisa Tagg, President of the National Association of Activity Professionals. Alisa has helped dozens of facilities build meaningful activity programs.
Here’s an example of how one woman thrived on learning a new skill and giving back:
Mary’s family was amazed when she got involved in a jewelry-making class in the memory care unit. Mary had never thought of making jewelry and she never even wore necklaces, bracelets, or earrings. But she loved beading and was thrilled to share her creative designs with others. Producing something beautiful for others motivated Mary. The facility helped her sell her jewelry and she contributed the money to the activities budget and also donated to charity.
Alisa knows how emotionally challenging it is for families to find good care facilities for their loved ones. Here are some of her insider’s tips for analyzing activities program.
See For Yourself
“You have to view what is going on in the activity room,” she says. “See how the staff interacts with the residents. If there’s an entertainer, is the staff in the back of the room, charting and talking? Or are they in the front, dancing, and singing and engaging with residents and families?”
Look at the activities calendar. Visit the facility at different times and on various days and see if the activities in progress match the scheduled events.
Study the schedule to see how often the residents are engaged, rather than just being entertained. Are they invited to contribute to community service projects? Are they going to sing-alongs or helping with baking projects? People with memory deficits need a variety of activities. Look for a variety of programming that balances the four areas of wellness—spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional.
Visit Programs of Interest
Visit the programs you think your loved one might enjoy.
Find out how many staff members assist in the activities program.
Does the care staff seem aware of the importance of activities? Is there one-on-one assistance for those who want to participate and need extra attention?
Watch for Independent Projects
Is there a place for puzzles, games, cards, and other things people can enjoy independently? Are there opportunities for residents to contribute to their community and to help others around them?
Share Questions and Concerns
“Every facility should have a plan of care meeting, where family can share their expectations and concerns with the nursing staff,” Alisa says. “Ask how your loved one is doing. Share your insights.
A good facility will welcome that meeting.”
Stay as involved as you can. Helping your loved one connect through meaningful activities may involve trial and error. Get to know the other residents and their families. You’ll stay engaged with your loved one and create a sense of community with a lot of other wonderful people as well. #
To learn more about Alisa Tagg, BA ACC/EDU AC-BC CADDCT CDP and the National Association of Activity Professionals, visit https://naap.info
To delve into creative activities do you can on individual visits, read my latest book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together.