Years ago, I worked as an activity director at a county home in Butler, Mo. There I learned about adapting hobbies to meet changing abilities. Albert taught me that even when you can’t grip a domino, you can still enjoy the game. Every Wednesday, we dropped him off at the town square for his weekly session. A friend helped him place the pieces and he often won. Sadie taught me the power of memorizing poetry. Though she could no longer see the world around her, she enriched her inner world by memorizing dozens of verses. Visiting her was like opening a book of best-loved poems. The residents all taught me the joy of sitting around a table together, working on a project. Even if the project didn’t work out the way we envisioned, the energy and camaraderie did.
Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to offer a presentation on engaging through creative activities for the National Association of Activity Professionals. These professionals are so vital in helping people stay creative and connected throughout the dementia journey. We were inspired by their depth of knowledge, compassion, and eagerness to learn.
As part of our presentation, we discussed adapting hobbies to meet changing abilities. We shared ideas from Connecting in the Land of Dementia, and our participants offered ideas from their experiences. Here are some tips for adapting hobbies:
Ask yourself: What does the person love most about doing this activity? What are the most important components for them?
For example, for gardeners, is it the feel of their hands in the soil? Is it producing flowers or harvesting vegetables? Is it having something to take care of? Or is it the ritual coffee and cookies enjoyed after the work is done?
For those who like quilting, is it the finished product or making the squares? Is it the companionship with other quilters? Or the texture and colors of the fabric?
For scrapbookers, do they enjoy looking through photos or gluing pictures on the page? Do they like leafing through magazines and cutting out pertinent words and pictures or adding stickers and other playful accents. Or maybe it’s the companionship of working together.
By gathering answers to these types of questions, you can break down the activity’s components and encourage people living with dementia to keep pursuing their interests.
If you have ideas for adapting activities, we’d love to hear about them. For more information on the NAAP, visit https://naap.info/
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.