I was thinking how strange it must be to be a person living with dementia having been placed in a rest home or dementia facility. In general, people aren’t accustomed to communal living. Most people diagnosed with dementia, I imagine, have probably been living with just a spouse or partner, or possibly on their own. The exception is those with the early onset form, where they may still be living in a small family unit. In any case, it must be quite a shock to be thrown in with a group of people they don’t know in an environment, however nice it may be, that is also foreign to them.
I suppose the same can be said for rest home residents without dementia. Maybe it’s more challenging for these residents? But in a secure dementia home the situation for a resident living with dementia is more complicated. The resident may be confused already, and may not be able to articulate their feelings. Some residents rebel against what they see as a prison-like environment. I went recently to a dementia hospital facility and the entry/exit door was really nicely disguised. I don’t think any residents would be aware there was an “outside” beyond.
Despite some residents rebelling, from my experience, the residents soon accept their new environment and companions. Although it isn’t always smooth sailing, some occasionally are overwhelmed by the feeling they need to return to their “real” home.
One man at the secure dementia home I work at liked sitting in an armchair by a window in a small secondary lounge. He could look out at the trees and scenery beyond the rest home. He seemed to resist eating his meals in the communal dining room but when offered a meal in “his” lounge he would eat happily. He had created himself a small version of home where he was his own person, not part of a larger group.
Similarly, some residents will always choose to sit in the same chair in the TV lounge, whilst others seem contented to sit wherever there is an available seat. It’s interesting to see how everyone reacts and adapts to communal living, and important to respect their coping mechanisms.
Talking of communal living, when the weather is nice and conducive, I often play an outside ball game with some of the residents. We use a brightly coloured beach ball. I arrange chairs in a semi-circle facing my own chair. I have a number of people sitting in the chairs. Mostly I throw the ball to one person who returns it to me, ready to throw it to another person. Sometimes they throw it amongst themselves, but normally it’s via me.
I’m surprised how engaged everyone is. People who I wouldn’t have expected to like ball games, or communal games, come to that, become quite animated, and the game can go on for quite some time. Maybe we are used to group or team sports, probably from childhood at school. So perhaps group activities and sports is easier to accept than living in a communal basis.
One thing I must tell you, though, is what a mission it can be to organise the participants into sitting and remaining seated before the group activity starts. This is particularly tough when I am on my own, without the assistance of one of my wonderful caregiver colleagues. I interest one or two people into joining the game, telling them I have an activity in which I could really use their help. I accompany them to the outside area and seat them, asking them to stay put and that I will be returning very soon with more people so we can start the game. So off I go thinking I have done well, only to return with two new people to discover one or both of the original participants have gone. It becomes a seemingly impossible game in itself, going backwards and forwards, collecting people, seating them, trying to keep an eye on those already seated. Eventually we are ready to play the game and have fun, but I can feel quite exhausted.
An indoor version of this game we play uses a small wheat bag instead of the ball. Another excellent alternative for indoors is to use a large colourful balloon.
If any of you have any tips or ideas from your own experiences with group activities I’d love to hear from you.