Activity engagement is a vital part of maintaining or increasing quality of life for individuals with dementia. In fact, researchers recommend that it be part of daily routines, alongside exercise and proper nutrition. Activities can increase happiness and boost affect, while decrease agitation and boredom.
All too often, I find that preferred activities or cognitively-appropriate activities are also age-inappropriate activities. Just last week I saw a caregiver give an elderly woman with moderate impairment Disney puzzles, and the patient responded, “If you give me baby toys, I’ll act like a baby.”
Finding the right activities to maintain engagement is hard enough, but if you try to find “age- and stage-appropriate” materials, it can become a headache. A colleague of mine recently introduced me to Puzzles To Remember, an organization that provides age-appropriate AND cognitively-appropriate puzzles to any facility that cares for dementia patients. Puzzle pieces are large in size, small in numbers, and picture meaningful images for a senior population.
Dementia patients continue to maintain certain abilities as they decline and activities tap into these abilities, providing a sense of purpose. To create meaningful, age-appropriate activities is innovative, important, and inspiring. I think gentle nudges make large differences, and Max Wallack* just contributed to our culture change.
[To determine if age-appropriate materials do in fact increase activity engagement is an empirical question that I hope a behavioral gerontologist will answer one day.]
*The founder of Puzzles To Remember is also the author of the children’s book, Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear In The Refrigerator?