Caring for service users living with late-stage dementia is all about preserving dignity and promoting comfort and quality of life. The person may no longer be able to respond verbally, but it is important that you continue to speak to them and try to connect.
Dementia refers to a group of symptoms which cause terminal, progressive brain disease. Along with deterioration in the ability to do everyday things, communicating becomes increasingly difficult.
While communicating and remembering become increasingly difficult for a person with dementia, it is very important to understand that capacity to experience the full range of human emotions is unaffected. The person may experience boredom, stress and worry, and it is our job to reassure them, help them feel safe and provide the conditions where they can relax and be in a state of well-being. One way to do this is to provide activities that are tailored to the preferences and abilities of the individual service user. This is why it is important that professional carers to try to get to know the person as well as they can.
Activities for late stage Alzheimer’s should be stimulating but without challenges. Remember, the person may feel embarrassed or ill at ease if they have difficulty engaging with the activity. It is important to bring compassion, patience, sensitivity and respect to the work.
It is also important that you have realistic expectations. It is easy to feel disheartened if the service user does not make eye contact or want to engage with the activity you are offering. If there seems to be no interest, try something different, or try again a little later.
Ideas for activities in late-stage dementia.
Always watch for signs of discomfort or anxiety and stop the activity if you think it might be causing distress. When recording the activity afterwards, make sure to include a comment on how well the service user enjoyed it (or not).
- Sensory books, “Fiddle Blankets” or Aprons: These provide interest and stimulation through feel and texture. Make sure any buttons or ribbons attached are fully secure before use
- Stuffed Toys: Plush animals such as teddy bears or soft dogs can provide comfort and enjoyment. If the service user believes the stuffed animal is real, do not correct them
- Dolls: Some people living with dementia find great comfort in cradling a ‘baby’. Make sure you treat the doll yourself as though it were real, as the person may become distressed if they see you treating it like an object
- Hand Massage: Give your client a gentle hand massage with a lotion or oil. Check for any allergies first
- Physical Contact: Brushing the service user’s hair, or simply holding their hands can be a good way to connect and give comfort
- Photo Albums: Look through family photo albums with the service user. Don’t ask questions that they may not be able to answer (such as “is this you in the picture?”)
Ask family members to label the photos so that you can point out and name the people in the pictures for the service user.
- Music: Music can be extremely powerful, putting the person with dementia back in touch with their personhood, stimulating memories of days gone by. Find out what music was special to the person in the past and make a playlist. Research shows that music can improve mood, stimulate memories, promote relaxation and even bring moments of joy