How can we bring lightness and pleasure to our interactions with people with dementia? I like to use props, which can be any durable object suitable for show-and-tell.
Introducing a new object to a person living with dementia can spark their attention and stimulate curiosity. If the item means something special to you, that can help, too, since it will bring greater emotional depth to your encounter.
Here are three examples of items I like to bring with me when I visit someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another condition affecting memory or thinking.
An Octaband® is a colorful fabric exercise tool to play with, indoors and out. The inexpensive, stretchy device comes in small (8-arm) and large (16-arm) sizes. When you play one-on-one with a partner, you position yourselves on opposite sides of the center circle and hold a colorful arm of the Octaband in each hand. The extra arms wave in the breeze — somewhat like flying a kite.
When I get to know someone with dementia, I like to bring photos of the town where they grew up. Is it easier to recognize buildings than faces? I don’t know, but I’ve had some lovely chats with clients who remember going to the movies at the theater on Main Street or hearing summer concerts at the gazebo in the park. I download photos from the Internet to my smartphone or a tablet for easy sharing, but you could also have a copy shop print and laminate them.
The labyrinth is an ancient design experiencing renewed popularity today as a platform for stress reduction. A lap labyrinth is a wonderful, portable alternative to the patio-sized or larger labyrinth for walking meditation. I coach my clients to hold the breathe as they move their fingers slowly along the grooves of the device, tracing the curves back and forth until the center is reached and then coming back out to the edge again. I support people in going at a faster pace if that seems more natural. It’s also fine to skip from one groove to another. Any path can bring this unusual object to life for a curious explorer.
What’s Your Experience with Props?
Do you use props as you interact with the person with dementia in your life? What works best: something familiar, or something new? How has this changed over time? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below. Or write me at mabartonst [at] gmail [dot] com. — MAB, August 9, 2015
PS: I offer examples of specific products based on my success in using them in my professional work with home-care clients. I am not not receiving any compensation for mentioning them.
Related: The first post in this series is Dementia Talk, already the top post in Joyous Paradox for 2015.