Creative activities for residents with dementia (McKnight’s LTC News)

Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:


Creative activities for residents with dementia

Greetings from Montana! I was in Billings last week conducting a training session for the Montana Department of Health. An enthusiastic group of over 100 LTC staff members from various departments joined the discussion and I came away with some excellent suggestions on how to engage residents with dementia.

The subject of how to best provide care for people with dementia without using antipsychotic medications was a particularly hot one at the conference. As well it should have been.

The topic is particularly timely given that CMS has increased its antipsychotic reduction goal from 15% (below 2011 levels) this year to 25% next year and 30% below for 2016. As G. Allen Power, MD, pointed out in his recent McKnight’s article, antipsychotic medication reduction should be preceded by educating staff members about alternatives to medication.

One important alternative is offering activities that enrich the lives of people with dementia so that they’re engaged in positive pursuits that build on remaining strengths.

Many participants in the Montana training were from the recreation/activities/life enrichment departments and they shared some great ideas they’ve successfully used to engage residents with dementia. These include:

  • Off-campus trips to a variety of locations, including many of the scenic outdoor attractions in Montana. “A lot of work, but worth it!”
  • A “whack-a-mole” game where residents use water pistols to shoot down plastic cups decorated as moles. A game such as this allows residents to release anger in a healthy, socially acceptable manner. (It was suggested that since I’m from New York City, we use a “whack-a-rat” version, but I think New Yorkers might enjoy “whack-a-pigeon.” Pigeons, or “flying rats,” as some people refer to them, are much more ubiquitous and annoying but get less media attention.)

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Creative activities for residents with dementia


4 thoughts on “Creative activities for residents with dementia (McKnight’s LTC News)”

  1. Love the water pistol idea. But if the water part of it is verboten as it is in my facility, there are other way to help alleviate resident stress and get some exercise at the same time: The large 3 feet in diameter balloons are better than balls. They bounce more, can easily be punched or kicked, yet not hurt anyone. In fact when one of these bounces off someone it is always taken in good humor. The size and a bright color of these is especially helpful to those with poor vision or those whose range of motion is limited. Everyone can hit it and smiles each time. Also try children’s tennis rackets and bat around smaller balloons. Of course you must have a room big enough to accommodate wheelchair participants and the movement of the balloon.

    • Balloons are perhaps the most underrated therapeutic recreation tool for frail and cognitively impaired adults. For all the reasons Denize Springer has mentioned. Plus, they are so inexpensive! Try volleyball with a real net or add them to an exercise circle and give everyone a fly swatter. Everyone will be smiling and laughing, guaranteed! You can even have a gentle balloon toss with someone who is bed bound or with people that are sitting in the hallways. I had a patient with Parkinson’s and she could barely lift a hand but she loved having a volley with me by giving that balloon a tap with one finger that she could raise a couple of inches.

      • Michele, I can see how enjoyable the balloon volley could be for the resident with Parkinson’s, allowing her to connect with you and be physically active in a playful, manageable way. I once helped out a recreation therapist playing a balloon volleyball game with a large group of residents on either side of the net — he was keeping the ball in play on his side with his team and me on my side with my team and it was fun for everyone. I was surprised at how much fun it was — more than it might seem from watching on the sidelines.


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