DIMENSIONS Autumn 2000


by Rebecca Logsdon, Ph.D.

Introducing pleasant events into the daily life of individuals with dementia can improve their mood and enhance overall quality of life. Increasing participation in pleasant events involves several steps. First, you need to identify activities the person would like to do, and then find ways to simplify these activities so he or she can participate in them and enjoy them. When deciding on an activity for a person with dementia, be sure that:

Finding fun activities

One of the best ways to think of fun activities is to remember what the person has enjoyed in the past. These past activities give clues about what the person might like to do now. Another way is to constantly be on the lookout for small things the person enjoys, and try to introduce these things into your day-to-day routine. For example, if the person enjoys getting mail, arrange for friends or family members to regularly send cards or letters, so mail comes almost every day. Other enjoyable activities can include: going for a walk, neck or shoulder rubs, having friends visit, or sitting together each day at the same time to watch a TV or video program.

You may find that the person you care for enjoys some things that are associated with childhood. This is most likely because things made for children are made to appeal to the senses. Bright colors, textures and simple ideas are often appealing to people with dementia. You may also find that he or she enjoys books and television shows that are aimed at children, or enjoys re-runs of old shows that they enjoyed when they were younger. People with dementia also often enjoy listening to music, especially familiar music from their past. It may provide many pleasant hours for them.

Finding activities that are reasonable

You probably realize finding time to do these pleasant events can be hard. It is often helpful to schedule pleasant events as part of chores you do routinely. For example, schedule a walk in the park as part of a shopping trip for a needed item, or on your way out to retrieve the mail or newspaper. This way you will do what you need to do and also accomplish a pleasant event with the person you care for.

Sometimes it can be difficult to motivate another person to participate in planned activities. When this happens, try not to get into an argument about it. Remember to be enthusiastic yourself and act like you are having fun. Introducing new activities gradually or allowing the person to "participate" by just being around a pleasant event may help. For example, if the person enjoyed cooking in the past but is reluctant to try it now, you may need to reintroduce it. You might start by asking her to come to the kitchen to keep you company. As you cook, comment frequently about how much fun you're having, or about how she helped you learn to cook. Ask his or her opinion about what you're doing, have them taste it for you, etc. Invite them to help in some small, easy task. Gradually, over time, increase their involvement as they are willing and able to participate.

Breaking activities into smaller steps

Individuals with dementia may be unable or unwilling to participate in a pleasant event because of their cognitive problems. The event you have in mind may be too complex. Therefore, instead of being a pleasant event, it could turn into a frustrating and unpleasant event for you both. The important things to remember here are: simplify the activity as much as needed, and don't force the person to participate. For example, the person may have enjoyed complex card games in the past, but may be unable to follow a game any longer. A solution might be to find a simpler game. If all games are too difficult, the person may still enjoy sorting through and arranging the cards.

At other times, there is something about an activity that could be changed to make it more enjoyable. For example, a walk through the park could be enjoyable, but not if there is something about the walk that is unpleasant. Perhaps there are too many people, children running and yelling, strange dogs, etc. These may make the person anxious. A walk could still be an enjoyable event, but perhaps, instead of walking through the park, you could walk around a quiet block. Similarly, if sitting on a bench in the park now upsets the person, you can sit on some chairs in the yard. These are the sort of changes that you'll need to try in order to tailor events to the person with dementia.

Getting started

Take a moment to think of some pleasant activities that might work in your own life. Write down your ideas of what you and the person you care for might enjoy. Remember to start small and stay simple. You may find that, at first, the person refuses to do any activity, but, once they have started they enjoy the activity. This means you have selected the right activity. Change and new activities are sometimes upsetting to individuals with dementia at first, but keep trying. As you begin to see that the pleasant events you are providing are improving the person's outlook on life, you will feel more confident about scheduling activities and knowing that a change for the better is taking place.

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