Open Mind: Activities for people with dementia

June is Seniors Month across Canada and a good time to reflect on how we bring joy to our seniors who live with dementia.

After attending a workshop in 2017 hosted by Gail Elliot, founder of Dementiability, the Alzheimer Society of Dufferin County became inspired to build a Montessori-based Resource library for families and people diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease or related dementia.

Dementiability is about using Montessori-based principals to engage our seniors with dementia in meaningful, positive activities.

When most people hear the word Montessori they think, surely, that is for children. However, Gail Elliot has found the same philosophy could be applied to activities for seniors living with dementia. That philosophy is simple: encourage independence, offer choices, and treat people with respect and dignity.

Doesn’t this sound like what all of us require each day, too?

Montessori-based activities are designed to give each person purpose and meaning in their lives.

Studies show that when people engage in familiar enjoyable activities, it improves their sense of wellbeing in five domains: they feel better physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially and cognitively.

COVID-19 restrictions have taken away many activities for seniors living with dementia, such as attending adult day programs, seniors centres or just connecting with family and friends. So many people are now confined to home, seeking purpose in their day-to-day routines.

During this time, families can often feel burdened with caregiving requirements and while they understand the need for simple, fun activities it is often a struggle to put these activities together.

The Alzheimer Society Dufferin has developed kits offering a wide variety of activities that are customized to meet the individual’s needs. The activity kits allow people to work with their hands while stimulating brain cells. They reconnect people to their identity and life history. Fun activities can help soothe a person as they seek to find comfort in their day to day routines. Kits provide opportunity to reacquaint with previously enjoyed activities and often serve to reduce anxiety and agitation, leaving a person feeling calm with a sense of accomplishment.

Families have been extremely grateful to receive these kits.  Their expressions of thanks have been quite moving. Hearing the many positive stories from families reminds us how activities can be beneficial and motivational for a person living with dementia. Knowing these kits provide moments of joy, makes putting them together an honour for the Alzheimer Society staff and brings joy to the team.

Participants say that they particularly enjoy activities such as reading material on a variety of topics, bird house painting, T-shirt art, canvas painting and flower arranging.

The workshop activities allow for sorting, sanding, lock and key match games and so much more. It is amazing how much entertainment a simple deck of cards can provide, even sorting reds and blacks or descending ordering from the King.

There is no right or wrong way to complete an activity, as each person has their interpretation of how the end product should look.

Across Ontario, Montessori-based activity kits are being developed and are a hot commodity for seniors with dementia. To enquire about providing meaningful engagement to a person with Alzheimer disease or related dementia, reach out to your local Alzheimer Society.

During this unusual time of social distancing we can be reminded of the value of enhancing moments with our much loved and valued seniors. Take a moment today to reflect on how each activity we do has purpose for us.

– Submitted by Elaine Griffin, psychogeriatric resource consultant, and Diane Cannon, First Link coordinator, of the Alzheimer Society Dufferin County