Helping someone with Dementia find Meaning and Purpose

helpinghandMy daughter and I visited my Mom yesterday and as we were leaving my 11-year old turned to me and said “She’s a lot worse.” I have noticed that instead of one or two odd-ball comments, she now has whole sentences that don’t make sense.

She is also doing things that don’t seem very nice, but I know under her actions there is good intent. My Mom is a life bridge master and created and directed games around Northern Virginia. Several of them were in the Retirement Community where she now lives. I was told that she has been very disruptive at the games and have visited and seen the resistance to find her a partner lately. About a year ago, she tried to willingly turn over the games to a woman who volunteered. My Mom was having a hard time getting the bridge boards together. I know the woman had a very hard time because my Mom would forget she turned over the game and try to take it back over. Apparently, she still forgets which causes trouble.

A few weeks ago, the woman who was running the games got ill and has been in the nursing unit. My Mom went to go take her “boards” back from the community room. When I asked her why, she couldn’t tell me.  She is having a hard time putting her ideas together and communicating her intent — the first week she told me the story, it just sounded like she felt like this was her opportunity to steal back the equipment she turned over to the new volunteer director. Yesterday, she finally told me she was getting them ready so they would have boards to use so they could still have their games.

What I do see when I visit my Mom is how many things she can still do. My daughter hurt her foot and is now using crutches. On our trip, I would stop by the front door to let out my daughter and my Mom. My Mom would hop out of the car and get the door open to help my daughter. She was attentive and tried to assist with small tasks during our entire visit.

That is the missing component now for my Mom. She has been a tinkerer her entire life and having small tasks or someone to help would do her a heap of good. The Assisted Living community can keep her safe, but they just aren’t staffed or designed to keep her mind engaged doing activities she is interested in joining. They do offer bingo and movies and Zumba — but those aren’t things my Mom is interested in. I bet she would be interested if they offered activities that would help others. My Mom was a caregiver for my Dad, but now that he is gone, I know with the right guidance, she could still help others. Wondered. 

Please let me know if you have suggestions or are familiar with programs or facilities that offer more purposeful activities. 

8 thoughts on “Helping someone with Dementia find Meaning and Purpose

  1. Can she knit or crochet? Some groups and individuals make premie babie hats to donate to a local hospital. Similarly some make blankets with yarn or quilting to give to children’s organizations or through churches. Likewise she could maybe work alone or with others to make cards to send to soldiers or to children in hospitals.

    1. Unfortunately she doesn’t — I remember one sweater she made me when I was in 7th grade, she worked on it for months, the colors were brilliant, but it was so tight in my neck and shoulders not only did it look funny on — it was uncomfortable. But I did wear it several times knowing how long she had labored on that sweater for me. Unfortunately, she really can’t work alone on a new task – she would need reminders and redirection. I think she also has trouble with groups. I tried to go with her to flower arranging, which she used to do, but she doesn’t seem to like any “group activities” that aren’t bridge. thanks for the suggestions.

  2. I have thought about this a lot and am glad to see you bring it up. My mom was always giving to other people and I know she still needs to feel that she is doing something for others now. She appreciates contributing to our household with the few chores she can still manage. I also read online about an effort to have people with dementia read books to kids in schools which I thought was brillant. It’s an isolated effort from the research that I have done but seems like a wonderful idea. I have considered finding a place to volunteer and bringing mom also but it’s simply not possible to fit into my packed schedule. Other ideas for how to help meet this need would be appreciated.

    1. Thanks for mentioning trying to fit things into a packed schedule! I am going to speak to her community and see if they can coach her through at least doing her laundry. I don’t think she will allow anyone else to wash her clothes even. I will share ideas if I find some other options.

  3. Neither my mom nor my dad engaged in any of the activities offered at their respective facilities. My mom sounds like you, always a doer and helper of others. If my mom had to stay in a facility on a permanent basis, I think she would have asked the staff for tasks to do. I know there is a facility here in Ga. (I think it is assisted living) that takes a group out to volunteer at a no-kill cat rescue on a regular basis. I’m sure there are restrictions on just how much residents can help with tasks at the facility but I agree there need to be more options. Many seniors have more to offer than just playing another round of Bingo.

  4. I just saw my neighbor with dementia yesterday at her facility. She wants to come home, she’s so bored. Having personalized activities to do or ways to help is an issue we need to address whether they are in a complex or at home. I’m hoping, since my neighbor was so active with helping people in our community, I’d like to team up with her and be advocates for Elder Issues if she gets back home.

  5. This stage will pass. I’m not saying that while she is still with you, not try everything. My Mother in law went through that stage. I arranged direct visits from her friends at church to engage with her daily, I hired a caregiver to do the things she loved to do and worked tirelessly creating modified house duties and other hobbies and within 6 months, she was completely not interested in these things any longer. To us, they look so forlorned.
    We look through our eyes of sadness and think they feel it too. As their minds go and as you notice, it’s harder for her to put words together and the same with their feelings. The memory is such a fast pass that the minute they think boredom, it’s gone. They think sadness, it’s gone. They don’t remember the feeling, it’s gone.
    We linger with our feelings much longer.

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