Incorporating Meaningful Activities into a Care Plan for Seniors with Dementia

In designing a successful daily care plan for someone with dementia, one thing is for sure: one size does not fit all. Covering the ADLs (activities of daily living) is the starting point. Beyond that, where's the joy? Just because an individual has some form of dementia doesn't mean they don't have the capacity to have fun! Including meaningful activities, based on the persons likes and dislikes, is a great strategy to improve quality of life for both the senior as well as the caregiver. Innovative activities for those with cognitive impairment have widespread benefits. Person-centered activities plans can be created with some upfront effort on the caregivers' part. Caregivers who have taken the time to educate themselves along these lines will tell you, creating an appropriate and intentional activity plan for a senior with dementia pays great dividends for everyone involved.

This new segment in senior care has expanded tremendously and now has high-quality dedicated training, certifications, and education available. It is becoming widely understood that undesirable behaviors by those with dementia is caused by an unmet need. Following this train of thought, the benefits of well designed, person-centered activities help to:

* Minimize behavioral issues (keep them busy!)
* Improve sleep habits (keep them busy during the day so that they sleep more at night)
* Decrease depression and anxiety (a well suited activity makes them feel useful)
* Improve self esteem (engage them in activities in which they will experience success)
* Mental and social stimulation (we all need to connect with others)
* Reduce caregiver stress (a great plan, with plenty of room for flexibility, makes for a great day)

A person-centered activity plan layered on top of the care plan is now showing up in home care agencies as well as among savvy family caregivers. Consider the progression of the form of the senior's dementia. When crafting a meaningful activity plan, consider the following questions:

* Is the activity geared appropriately to their cognitive and physical ability?
* Is there a way to modify this activity to set them up for success?
* What are the social needs, abilities, and preferences of the senior?

For example, when creating a balanced approach, consider what time of day the person's high point of energy occurs. This would be a great time to introduce a physical activity which can be as simple as taking a walk or doing a little chore in the house to music like folding laundry or sorting coins.

Do you know what the #1 go-to "activity" is for an agitated senior is? In talking with activity directors at senior living facilities, health aides in senior day programs, as well as caregivers in home care agencies, the homerun activity especially during sundowning (late afternoon) involves music! Start by finding out what musical artists and specific songs your senior enjoyed when they were around 20 years old. Work directly with the individual or their family. Collect a list of 10-12 songs that can be downloaded from iTunes or is already in their personal music collection. If you haven't experienced an amazing turnaround in mood and focus from the power of music, just give it a try and see for yourself. An irritated senior's mood is often instantly improved just by putting on a tune they used to love to dance to such as Glen Miller's hit song "In the Mood." The power of music cannot be underestimated. Amazing programs dedicated to collecting a playlist are emerging especially for those with advanced Alzheimer's disease. What has recently been discovered is that music is a backdoor into the mind. All parts of the brain are activated when listening to music which makes it unique and valuable in caring for someone with dementia.

You could extend the use of music by adding a fun and simple activity like a balloon toss or a scarf dance, which would make it a physical "activity." This is just one example of a person-centered activity plan.

As a caregiver, paid or unpaid, would you benefit from some training or access to appropriate activities products to get you up to speed on how to design and implement an appropriate activity plan? Activity products, activities training, and webinars are now available. To learn more, visit

by Ami Sarasvati, CSA, HCC/MC, Director of Business Development R.O.S Center New England

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