Can you imagine how it would feel if you were no longer able to accomplish a meaningful hobby, routine or familiar activity such as going out to dine with your friends independently? This is a common experience for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease or another form of memory loss.
Individuals with memory impairment still desperately need meaning and purpose in their lives, but have a difficult time trying to attain it on their own. As memory loss progresses, engaging in a life skill or routine task becomes increasingly challenging, and seniors need the support of someone who can adapt activities so they can still feel a sense of accomplishment, success and enjoyment.
In Sunrise's Reminiscence memory care neighborhoods, we have "life enrichment managers" who are dedicated to this cause. These care managers know how to modify life-enriching activities to meet the individual abilities, needs and preferences of every resident with memory loss, giving them a sense of self-worth and satisfaction. Engaging in life skills based on a resident's previous profession, role, favorite activity or interest serves to not only reinforce identity but also to give seniors a true sense of purpose.
It is important for caregivers to identify what was and still is important to the person they are caring for and how those things can be used to give seniors a sense of meaning today. Here are some ways caregivers can engage seniors with memory loss in order to better enrich their lives:
Identify Past Professions
The past careers of seniors with memory loss provide them with a great sense of dignity. As a caregiver, identify the professional role your loved one once engaged in, and create opportunities for activities that relate to those previous roles to allow them to feel useful once again. I know of a resident who was a former minister who now reads the Bible to another senior daily, and his family reported this is the happiest he's been in years. A seemingly simple activity can add such value to someone if it reinforces prior strengths and sources of pride.
Discover Hidden Talents
Encouraging those with memory loss to re-engage in forgotten talents or hobbies can lead to a source of great pleasure and satisfaction. By identifying past hobbies and skills, a caregiver can give loved ones the opportunity to pick up those interests again. We've noticed drastic changes in mood and enthusiasm in our residents after rekindling their favorite hobbies and talents. For example, we learned that one of our seniors -- who had not spoken in more than a year -- had previously played the harmonica. Once the harmonica was reintroduced, he showed marked improvement, even speaking a few words.
Reclaim Lost Arts
It's important to emphasize each loved one's accomplishments, regardless of how outdated they might seem today. If a person with memory loss once loved quilting, show others how impressive their gift is. This reassurance will enhance their self-worth and give them the confidence to connect with others. By speaking with the daughter-in-law of a resident who seemed to be losing interest in activities, we discovered that the resident had once won secretarial awards. The next morning over breakfast, the resident found the book of shorthand left by her, and to the amazement of those around her, started to read the text. Even though this might be a lost art in today's world, this activity once again brought this senior a feeling of accomplishment.
Encourage Social Engagement
While support from caregivers is essential, those with memory loss can support each other by participating in social clubs, classes and discussion groups with their peers. This connection provides them with the opportunity to interact and engage with those with similar points of reference, and reinforces all participants' self-worth. At Sunrise, we have residents that participate in cooking clubs, ballet and dance activities, a veterans' discussion group and even a regular celebrity gossip session. Discussions may veer towards past recollections and sometimes are even repeated week by week, but being a part of a group of people with similar interests allows memory loss suffers to feel a sense of importance and belonging.
Recognizing that seniors with memory loss can still engage in meaningful activities not only brings them and their loved ones joy, but is also a great way to stay connected. The key is to find something that resonates with each individual and draws on their continued strengths. The benefits they will experience include the maintenance or even improvement of some of their abilities, enriched relationships and an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose.
For more by Rita Altman, R.N., click here.
For more on caregiving, click here.
For more on Alzheimer's, click here.