Home Care for People with Dementia – It’s Not About What They Can’t Do, But the Process!

By Heather Rahrig, RN, BSN, CMC, Director & Co-Owner Carepoint, Inc.

Cognitive health is focused on a person’s ability to think, learn and remember. The most common cognitive health issue facing the elderly is dementia, the loss of those cognitive functions. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is the decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Approximately 55 million people worldwide have dementia—a number that is predicted to nearly triple in size by 2050. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease with as many as 6 million people over the age of 65 suffering from the disease in the United States.

Too many times during an initial home care assessment with clients that have dementia, families say their loved one “can’t do anything.” Unfortunately, the stress of watching a loved one spiral downward, losing cognitive function and at times not even recognizing their own family takes a toll and only day to day essentials seem to matter anymore, like eating, bathing, and dressing.

That is when home care comes in and can truly make a difference in not only the caregiver’s life but also the person with dementia. Part of the initial assessment must focus on who the client is, his or her occupation, spouse’s name (even if deceased), children, grandchildren, and hobbies. Then a care plan around these very important things in his or her life is created. People with dementia remember most clearly the things that happened way in their past, usually during their teens and 20s. Knowing what they used to like to do is so important.

The care plan can be followed not only by the home care staff but also by the family caregivers to help them develop a routine with their loved one. Completing an activity from start to finish is not the objective, the process and stimulation that the client gets from that activity is what is fulfilling for not only the person with dementia, but also the caregiver. We never know exactly what the person with dementia is able to process. The ability to spark a memory from the past and possibly bring out an emotion is so meaningful and makes him or her feel useful again, even if only for a short period of time.

Cooking is an example of something that many women of the Baby Boom generation were known for and often the family misses the traditional goodies mom used to make. Although they can no longer follow the recipe from start to finish, the caregiver can and is able to focus on the senses of the client and the process of cooking. Baking cookies believe it or not focuses on all 5 senses along with motor function and can be modified by a caregiver to in cooperate the person with dementia in order to make him or her feel useful. Stirring (motor function of holding the bowl and rotating the arm), rolling the dough into balls to bake (sense of touch, feeling the consistency of the dough and fine motor skills), smelling the cookies baking brings back many memories from the past, hearing the oven timer go off is stimulating, and of course seeing and tasting the dough before and after baking is very satisfying.

Men with dementia who used to enjoy card games could benefit from sorting poker chips, laying out cards and chips, holding the cards, feeling the edges of the cards, and looking at the suites. Also, having many pieces of PVC pipe to pick up, put together, looking at the shapes could be a fulfilling activity. Again, it is all about the little things that can spark memories not the act of actually playing the game or completing the task.

Folding towels is a huge sense of accomplishment for people with dementia. Keep a basket of towels that are just for folding, take them in the other room to unfold and bring out “another load” of laundry to fold. It is surprising how even into the late stages of dementia, folding towels is still something that can be done and give the feeling of accomplishing something. Balloon volleyball is another activity that can still be done by late stage dementia clients and applies to many
senses-bright colors are appealing to the eye, automatic response of hitting the balloon when it comes toward you works large motor skills as well as hand eye coordination. Listening
to music of the era when the person with dementia was in their teens and twenties brings back a world of memories and embarks emotions in everyone-if able dancing to the music can enhance the experience even more.

Always remember it’s not the end result that matters with people with dementia but it’s the process of spending time with them. Enjoying the little things like a smile, a laugh, a word that is mumbled because something sparked a memory, those are the important things that bring back the person inside that you used to know. Make your loved one feel alive again and don’t forget to enjoy bits and pieces of a meaningful life that you can all still enjoy!