Quality of Life for Dementia Patients

May 23, 2016 Rachelle Blough, C.T.R.S.

Mistakenly, some people believe a person’s quality of life is lost after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. While the symptoms of dementia certainly affect one’s ability to find joy and contentment, there are many ways caregivers and professionals can help people with dementia maintain their quality of life, even as the disease progresses.

No matter what stage they’re in, it is important for people with dementia to have their mind, body, and spirit stimulated each and every day. 

Engage in cognitive stimulation. 
To keep the brain active, people with dementia should engage in at least 20-30 minutes a day of cognitive activities. In the early stages, people with dementia might do crossword puzzles, trivia games, Sudoku, or computer-based brain games like Lumosity. In later stages, they may point out colors in a picture book, sort objects by size or color, or count playing cards. The possibilities are endless. Always remember to thank them for helping and use “queuing” techniques by using the person’s name and showing them how to do something by guiding their hands.

Participate in physical stimulation. 
Physical activity is equally as important for maintaining quality of life for people with dementia. This could be walking, dancing, exercising to workout DVDs adapted for people with dementia, or walking the dog. Aim for 20-30 minutes a day, but use personal habits as a baseline. Perhaps they were extremely active and walked 5 miles a day before their dementia diagnosis. The idea is to maintain normalcy and routine as long as they can. The individual might not have full range of motion, so seek advice from a physical therapist who can let you know what the person can do safely. Physical activity (under the guidance of a physical therapist) can help prevent stiffening of muscles as well as help improve range of motion 

Engage in self-expression. 
Engaging the spirit through self-expression helps spark joy and provide the ever-important sense of purpose. It can be achieved through art, cooking, music, journaling, reminiscing, or even watching an old favorite movie. If faith is important to the individual, help make sure that need is met. You can sing an old hymn, say a prayer, or attend a church service. Some churches and other organizations have created church services specifically for people with dementia. 

Connect with others. 
Socialization is very important for those living with dementia. There are adult daycare services, senior centers, church groups, men’s and women’s leagues, assisted living communities and many more opportunities to socialize available. Some people who move to assisted living “come back alive” after being in a private home all day with little to no interaction with others. It is as if their spirit has been reignited around people. Again, it is important to look at the individual’s baseline—if they were very social (or not) throughout their life. Some people tend to want to be alone more, and in this case they may want to sit in their room and be paired with a single caregiver to read a book or watch a movie together. 

Visits from friends and family are also extremely valuable. But remember, quality visits are more important than the quantity, so the family should come up with a plan that allows each visitor to come refreshed and able to dedicate time to the individual. For example, if a family member becomes frazzled with a hectic day right before a visit, the person with dementia may sense it, and it can make them feel worse. Phone calls, Skype and letters (written in a large, bold font) are also terrific ways to engage with loved ones without a physical visit. Many assisted living communities like Enlivant provide “visitor baskets” to improve the quality of the family visits. These may include a book of jokes, a back massager, devotions, or dry erase board. 

Feel useful.
The importance of helping create a sense of purpose for those living with dementia cannot be overstated. Allowing them to feel useful will help them stay independent as long as possible. Think about small things they can do successfully, such as wiping down the table, brushing the dog, giving advice, clipping coupons, or simply giving a hug. These types of activities can help individuals feel a sense of productivity and accomplishment, so they don’t feel like they are a burden. Doll therapy is also another common technique used with dementia patients, as it allows individuals to feel needed again as they care for the doll. 

Maintain routines.
Maintaining routines and familiarity for those living with dementia is key. Caregivers should know as much as possible about each individual (their job, where they went to school, names of family members, their hobbies, etc.). This includes knowing what their old routines were, and finding ways to interject those routines in their current daily life. Perhaps they like to have a cup of coffee and read the newspaper each morning. If they have a favorite TV program, favorite food or drink, or type of music they like to listen to, try to incorporate those things into their daily routine as much as possible.

Health care professionals and caregivers have a key role in influencing quality of life for their patients or loved ones with dementia. Reach out to specialized memory care programs in your area to obtain additional information, resources and recommendations. 

Rachelle Blough, C.T.R.S., C.D.P is a trainer, speaker and consultant who has worked in the senior living industry for more than 20 years. She is a Certified Recreational Therapist, a Certified Dementia Practitioner and a Certified Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia Care Trainer for the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners (NCCDP). For more information or to contact Rachelle visit her website.

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