Activities for people in late stages of dementia

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Connie was in a very advanced stage of dementia. Although she could still feed herself, that was about all she could do without a lot of assistance. Connie could speak, although she did not speak frequently, and many of her phrases were just, “Help me!” 

She was pleasant, although she got overwhelmed very quickly. This made it hard for me to find anything to do with her. I was at Connie’s senior living community, doing an assessment on her level of need and attempting to come up with any potential activities to do with her. Previous caregivers had just suggested that she “liked to watch TV,” although that really was not true.

I tried engaging Connie with a stuffed animal and a baby doll. She did not seem to like either of these. I offered Connie some socks to fold, but she wasn’t thrilled about this, either. 

I thought for a minute, and then reached for the adult coloring book and markers that I’d brought. I put the markers in Connie’s lap and asked her to hold them for me. I began to color, and Connie’s eyes were glued to the page. A small smile crossed her face as I held it up. “Do you think this is good?” I asked her. She nodded and watched me color, very intently, for the next 30 minutes.

I have always prided myself on finding great activities for people with dementia, but the biggest struggle always comes when people are in very late stages of their disease process. 

When a person can’t do very much for themselves, it’s hard to find an activity to engage them in. For Connie, what worked best was actually watching me work. She seemed to find it calming and enjoyable, especially since she was in charge of holding my markers.

Sometimes what works best is the simplest thing.

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

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