Improving Quality of Life for Individuals Living with Dementia and Their Families

Vicky Pitner   -  

An important goal when supporting individuals living with a neuro-cognitive disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia is ensuring they are living a life of quality and encouraging family members to maintain their quality of life as well.

Research by Gallagher-Thompson found the four components of Quality of Life (QOL). The following are evidence-based interventions that can be used by family members and individuals living with dementia to maintain or even improve QOL through the progression of cognitive, behavioral, and social changes that occur following a diagnosis.

  • Decreasing depression and creating pleasant events,
  • Continuing with activities of daily living (ADLs)
  • Physical functioning and mobility
  • Stimulating cognitive functioning

Families recognize the need for finding meaningful activities to help their family members with mood regulation, decrease depression and behavioral disturbances, and improve relationships. But how do you find these magical activities? Everyone is different, and it holds true with someone with dementia, studies show that we all love to laugh, learn, and create.

Begin by exploring resources at home. When developing a routine of engagement you will want to have activities to address their social, physical, cognitive, and expressive needs. Do you have friends that live in your neighborhood a walk away? This can address social and physical needs. Maintaining strength and flexibility can reduce fall risks for both the family member and your loved one. Can you start the day by having your family read a devotion, or share a morning poem? This would address both cognitive and expressive needs.

Tap into old hobbies. Often family members are surprised when their family member who has played the piano, in the past will sit down at a piano and play a familiar song. Muscle memory can stay intact, and someone could start knitting again. The outcome may not be a sweater, but the important goal is the action of knitting, not the end product.

Do you find your loved-one sorting through jewelry? Fill a purse with items of interest and have them explore at times they feel anxious. Did your father always shine his shoes for work? Set up a shoes shining activity to help with boredom. Having magazines to explore, paints to express feelings, and photo albums available can often trigger the thought to sit down and rest and to rest and engage. Create a safe kitchen junk drawer to dig through. Behaviors can sometimes just be a need to search for something.

Maintaining independence with ADLs such as dressing, brushing teeth, combing hair, and putting on shoes is important. It would be faster for the family member to “jump” in and dress the person, but what can eventually happen is the person can develop “learned helpless.” This will result in the person depending on assistance sooner in the progression. Use verbal or physical prompts during the morning or evening routine and only assist when necessary.

Cognitive stimulation is very important. Reading, card games (adapt rules for success!) signing their name on greeting cards, etc will allow for slower decline and improved relationships and prompt meaningful conversations or reminiscing.

Minimizing boredom, and providing meaningful activities to improve overall Quality of Life can delay decline and reduce behavioral disturbances.  Loving someone living with dementia can strain relationships, but lowering expectations as dementia progresses, offers opportunities to live a life with quality.

If you, a friend or family member living with memory loss would be interested in learning more about our Memory Ministry, our Memory Cafe or our Virtual Family and Friends Support Group, please contact Vicky Pitner at