People with dementia have a difficult time navigating their world in the same way that we do. As their disease advances doing the simplest things get more difficult. And one of the hardest things for caregivers is to not rescue them by doing it for them. When you step in and try to fix or make it easier for them you’re often creating excess disability, causing them to feel defeated and robbing them of their dignity. This venue will be offering ideas for activities that work in maintaining the involvement of the person with dementia in a dignified manner.
I have worked with people who have dementia for over 40 years, the one aspect of activities that gives them the feeling of well-being is that of normalization. So many times people think of “activity” as something fun and out of the ordinary; that is a special event, and those activities are very important, however, life is not just special events. Everything you do in everyday life is an activity. Actually what is important, is living everyday life and feeling like you have something to contribute. We all feel good about ourselves when we are useful. This article is going to talk about normalization activities. These are the activities that you and I do everyday in our life from brushing our teeth, making a bed, cooking a meal and most importantly being useful.
So what is normalization activity? It’s the washing of dishes, writing a book, fixing a car, teaching, feeding the animals, washing cloths, making a meal, or whatever you did in your life as your career. It’s our job to create usefulness for each individual. This can be very difficult in a group setting, but also very important because even though you’re part of a group you still need recognition of your own individuality. It is so important for us to recognize the person, not the disease that they have. To do this you have to know their history. So if you have a housewife ,for example, living in your facility who’s taken care of their loved ones and their house for the majority of their life, you have to know the things that are going to make them feel comfortable. What were the things they’re most proud of or loved to do the most, and how are they going to be able to contribute in some way doing things that are familiar to them? Knowing their history is one of the most important parts of the job you do and that is why if they’re not able to tell you everything, you need to do investigation by talking with their loved ones and their friends, the people who know them best.
So today we’re going to talk about baking a cake. How hard is baking a cake? Well, for someone with dementia it can become an ominous task, but if it’s something that they’ve done their whole life, tapping into their long-term memory will make this a successful activity. The first thing to do is get a recipe they’re familiar with. Second, have all the ingredients available, ready for use and marked clearly. Then let them know that you need their help, “I’m not a baker, could you help me? I need your expertise”; and then you see it… this amazing change as someone rises to the occasion when they’re given the opportunity to be who they are. Don’t ever underestimate the person’s ability to tap into what they love in their life.
I believe that for us the hardest part of doing an activity like this is giving up control and letting things happen. It doesn’t really matter if the person does it right or wrong it’s that the person feels engaged and successful while doing it. So give up control and let them do what they do. If they ask for your help, help them if they don’t let them do it their way. It doesn’t matter what the outcome is, it’s the involvement that matters and the feeling of usefulness. So the cake gets put together from the recipe or not, and it gets put in the oven and then if it’s successful it comes out of the oven and it’s served to everybody that wants a piece of cake. Here’s the secret to the success of making that person feel successful no matter what happens; you already have a cake that you baked according to their recipe and if their cake fails you bring out your cake and they get total credit. Everyone enjoys the cake it now becomes a group activity and the person who made it has the feeling of success and usefulness which are the two most important feelings you can give to anybody especially when so many of their attempts at life are made so difficult with this disease.
This is just one example of individualizing your programs to set the person with dementia off on a road of successes rather than failures. You can do this with any person who has dementia if you do your homework and know their history. Remember even if they don’t have family their long-term memory remains intact late into the disease, and they are able to give you windows into who they were years ago and what they loved. Tap into those memories to create successful activities. The most important job you have is to make sure that the person lives every day of their life with their dignity intact and having successes in their days. This activity of baking includes so many aspects of programming, including cognitive, tactile, reminiscing, and social. Remember anything in life is an activity. If a person is engaged and happy you’ve done your job well.