Nobody wants to see residents lined up watching TV

Seriously—no one wants to walk into a dementia care unit where residents are seated around a television. And, unfortunately, we’ve all encountered this before.

No one is actually watching the TV, and it’s clear that they were “put” there in order to pass the time. Let’s work on designing a community that’s centered around activities and engagement that actually meets the needs of adults with dementia!

Here are some basic, easy-to-follow tips that put the PERSON first:

  • Make the activity room central to everything (AKA make activities and engagement central to everything!)
    • Amanda says: I can’t tell you how good it makes my heart feel when I see residents active and engaged. Whether they’re listening to a staff member read the paper or doing a sorting activity on their own, it’s important to get residents doing things. Can you imagine sitting in one place, day after day, with nothing to do? Then add to that the fact that you’re feeling isolated and anxious because your disease prevents you from taking in information and communicating the way you’d like to. Make the activity room central, but also include zones throughout the community that offer residents a chance to interact with things like artwork, life skill stations, and sensory baskets. Have portable activities that staff can bring over to a resident.
  • Hire an activity director who understands dementia.
    • Rachael says: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met “activity directors” who rely solely on Bingo and TV as means of entertaining people with dementia. They don’t know enough about this group of diseases to get creative! Not only should this person understand dementia, they should also get to know their residents as individuals. Often, the person in charge of activities is the first person who can identify a potential Urinary Tract Infection or other health issue with a resident! (UTIs tend to make residents act very strangely, and they are often easy to spot when an activity director knows her or his residents well.)
  • Create spaces in the activity room that offer different types of activities.
    • Amanda says: Group activities are great, but not everyone wants to participate in those, and not everyone may be at the same level cognitively. In the Activity Room, I often include several 42″ square tables that have a central mechanism with wheels, so that you can easily put all the tables together as one long one for a group activity, or separate the tables and have residents doing different activities at the same time (also called ‘clustering’). Have baskets of items for residents to use if they want to work independently. Include a life skill station in the activity room like an art station where residents can color or draw whenever the mood strikes them. Have an activity on the wall like a large chalkboard or whiteboard where people can write or play games.
  • Use light, color, and music to draw people into the room.
    • Rachael says: One of the first things that I do when designing a space is to add a music player of some sort. It really draws residents into the room by creating an inviting, interesting area for them to explore.
    • Amanda says: Make it bright and beautiful! The darker the room, the less likely a resident will want to go in there because it looks scary. Would you want to roam into a dark room? There is nothing enticing about it. Use colors that incite activity and energy like forms of reds and yellows. Use a mixture of lamps and overhead lighting.