Creating an Enabling Environment is Key to Providing Dementia Care

How does Dementia effect a person’s ability to enjoy their hobbies and participate in activities?

Dementia gets worse over time. Although symptoms vary, the first problem many people notice is forgetfulness severe enough to affect their ability to function on a daily basis and to enjoy hobbies. One example is playing cards. A person with dementia will likely begin to forget the rules of a card game they have played their whole life. They may mess up during the game, which will usually cause them to avoid a card game they have played their whole lives all together. Aside from general forgetfulness, people with dementia often find that they lack the motivation to do anything. This loss of motivation can be attributed to general apathy or that certain activities have no value if they cannot be carried out as before.  Repeated difficulty doing hobbies that used to be easy is also a painful reminder of the progression of the disease. Lastly but in my opinion most importantly, there is the issue of personal pride which causes masking, which is not wanting to show others that one cannot do something well or is forgetful. Even those who carry on with their usual activities sometimes lack the motivation or the incentive to get started due to the brain changes that come along with dementia. Family members often find it difficult to deal with apathy, particularly if the person with dementia has always been a fairly active person. In order to understand how Dementia and apathy are related, please visit my previous blog post
What does creating an enabling environment for a person with Dementia mean?
The first step is to know what type of activities or hobbies a person enjoyed prior to the dementia.  Activities that are related to or connected with past hobbies are often easily accomplished as they bring a sense of familiarity. The second step is to align the type of activity to the stage of dementia. Over simplifying activities for someone with more capabilities is just as detrimental as not simplifying them at all.
Real Life Example: Lets take a puzzle activity. You are working with Jane who has mild dementia, who loves puzzles, and has done them all of her life. You present Jane with a 25 piece puzzle. She finishes it quickly and wonders why you brought her such a “child like” puzzle. This further effects Jane’s self esteem and reminds her that the world notices her cognitive deficits and has started treating her as a child. On the other hand you are working with John, who has moderate dementia, who also loved puzzles. You bring John a 200 piece puzzle. He struggles and struggles with it and after 10 minutes give up in frustration. The solution would have been to give the Jane the 200 piece puzzle and to give John the 25 piece.
What if you are working with a new person and are not sure of their current abilities?
Lets take the above example of Jane and John and puzzles. If you are not sure of their abilities you bring several puzzles to both. In Jane’s case, if you see her quickly putting it together, you tell her that she is doing a great job, and that you knew that puzzle was too easy, and that you brought another one and put the 200 piece in front of her. In John’s case, as soon as you notice that he is struggling you tell him that it appears that there are pieces missing from that puzzle, and you have one for him that has all the pieces, at which point you take out the 25 piece puzzle. It is very important to say that there is something wrong with the puzzle so that John does not feel that you changed puzzles because he could not do the first one.
What is another example of creating an enabling environment?
Choosing a simplified version of an activity, or an easier game or version are also ways of creating an enabling environment. Simplifying an activity or a game by removing some of the steps.
Real life example: Jenn used to be a chef and has cooked her whole life. She has given up cooking on her own but loves to participate in cooking activities. Jenn is in the moderate state of dementia.  You have a cookie recipe that makes cookies from scratch by first making dough and then baking the dough. In order to enable the environment for Jane, you take that same recipe but you remove the more difficult steps such as those steps where the dough is made and you start with the dough being in front of Jenn.  You have now created a simplified version of a hobby that Jenn can do and she will get the same final cookie as she would have if the cookie was made from scratch.
Many do not realize that time awareness is part of an enabling environment but it is..
Many people with dementia loose track of time in general. They also have trouble remembering appointments as well as at what time activities take place. Because they start forgetting and missing activities and appointments, many times they stop attempting to go to any of these appointments or activities. To create an enabling environment, you must take the remembering out of their minds. Instead of telling them in advance, scheduling future events or appointments, you tell them in the moment right before the appointment or activity. You also reassure them, that you will get them for the each activity, not because they will forget, but because you want to. This will take the stress of remembering out of the equation and help foster more participation in hobbies and activities.
1503696303319The Take Away…
Creating an enabling environment takes on many forms. Some of these forms are tangible activities and some are communication styles. It is important to know that creating an enabling environment is not a skill that most people naturally have. It is not a skill that you make up as you go. It is imperative to surround a person with dementia with those who understand dementia, and have received specialized training and have experience with things such as creating an enabling environment and communicating with a person with dementia. Continuing dementia education is a great way to learn the skills to engage a person with dementia. Join us at the Orchard at Tucker, 2060 Idlewood Rd, Tucker GA 30084 on Thursday, January 4th at 6:00 pm for our monthly Live & Learn Dementia Education Forum. For more information call 404-775-0488 or download