Underestimating what people with dementia can still do


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“Wow, I had no idea that she could still do that,” he said. “That’s awesome.”

It’s not the first time that I’ve heard something like that: so many times, we underestimate what people with dementia can do. Often, we take tasks away from people with dementia because we don’t want to give them something that is “too challenging.” Really, if we put in a little time and patience, we may find that people with dementia can do a lot more than it seems like they could.

This particular woman with dementia, Betty, likes to be busy. She grew up on a farm and is accustomed to doing a lot of different chores. Through some effort, we’ve found that she really enjoys puzzles and pattern-making—and she’s pretty good at those things, too.

The task that I brought Betty is both a pattern-making game and a chore-like game. I figured that Betty probably knew how to sew, so I hoped that this task would be perfect. 

As you can see in the video, once Betty got started, she needed almost zero instruction. It took about 30 seconds to get her going on this task, and I did the first two holes for her. Once she saw how to do it, her fingers took over. Betty even began to hum a song to herself quietly, a sign to me that she had sewn many things before and probably enjoyed the work.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLi8lkhVQF8?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1&origin=https://safe.txmblr.com&wmode=opaque&w=540&h=405]

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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