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  • Julie Bigham

Work? Chores? Are these really meaningful activities in the midst of Alzheimer’s?

In one memory care unit that I worked we had a retired lawyer who, when he was up and about, would call our morning stand up meetings to order. Mr. B would knock his fist on the counter to get everyone’s attention, then turn the meeting over to our director. As she gave report, he would shake his head in approval, staring into the faces of the staff. When the meeting was over, he’d walk away satisfied that his days work was complete. Being a lawyer was who Mr. B was, and calling our meeting to order gave him purpose in a life that seemed lost a lot of the time.


Mrs. W was a retired nurse, but to her, “once a nurse, always a nurse.” She found purpose holding the hands of new residents who were having a difficult time adjusting to placement.


People need to feel a sense of purpose in life. That purpose may be related to a career, an educational achievement, volunteer work, and yes, even in caring for a home and family. In today’s world, it may be hard for some to understand that many people felt a sense of love, commitment, pride, and satisfaction in their role caring for home and family, whether they worked inside the house or out. Whatever your feelings on the subject, giving those who are living with dementia a sense of purpose can help alleviate some of the anxiety and frustration that comes with living in a world that feels empty. Giving them a purpose that is familiar and brings back feelings of satisfaction of a job well done, may be one of the greatest gifts we can give them.


What’s the downside to living without purpose? In his article, “4 Benefits of Living with Purpose”, Bo Muchoki says, “Depression, dark moods, and sadness usually originate from feeling like a lost soul, feeling out of control, feeling like you have no direction...Nothing feels worse or more depressing than that confusion, frustration, and disappointment of feeling like your life is headed in a bad direction or no direction at all.” Life for someone living with Alzheimer’s can be filled with confusion and frustration, or seem out of control.


Whether they are reliving their career calling a meeting to order, or rocking a baby doll to sleep in their arms, watching a loved one live with purpose is a beautiful thing! In many memory care units, you will find life skill stations or boxes set up for residents to work in; towels to fold, socks to sort, flowers to be watered, baby clothes hanging on a line, a writing desk with legal pad and pen, even a tool chest and vanity. These stations provide great opportunities for residents to find purpose in their day.


At home, including your loved one in the daily work around the house can help them, help you, another beautiful thing. People want to be helpful. If mom loved to prepare dinner, but you’re worried about heat and sharp objects, create the opportunity for her to help you set the table, unload the dishwasher, put ice in the glasses, mix the salad, butter the toast, or put away the groceries. Dad loved to garden, but can’t do so safely anymore? Create the opportunity for him to help you plant flowers, herbs, even veggies in pots on the deck, bringing color and beauty right to the back door or front porch.


(“Mrs. JL was a tall, willowy woman who took daily walks through the courtyard to enjoy the out of doors. She had gardened all of her life and regularly picked the dead heads off the flowers in our wheelchair accessible planters, so they would bush out as new flowers grew. I never really saw any color on our flowers though, as JL seemed to deadhead them before they ever bloomed. But it gave her purpose and great pleasure to “care for” our flowers, which was the goal.” (Excerpt from my book “Gifts from Gramps”, available on Amazon and at Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC).


If mom took care of the checkbook and kept up with the bills, but you now control the account, you can still create the opportunity for her to fulfill this purpose. Set up a day each month to sit down together and ask her to write out the checks for you to take to the post office when you mail your own, or accompany her to the bank to make her monthly transactions. If dad loved tinkering with the car, create an opportunity for him to feel helpful, asking for his advice about an issue your having with your own, how he would fix it, what tools you will need, or his thoughts on a quote from the mechanic.


As Alzheimer’s progresses, daily activities can be adapted to fit your loved one right where they are, and continue giving them a sense of purpose. (We’ll cover the topic of adapting activities in a future post.) Perfectly folded towels or set tables, matched socks, real checking accounts, or a backyard garden doesn’t define the success of an activity. The time spent doing something familiar, something that adds a sense of value and assistance, something that gives purpose, is where success will be found.



If you’d like more activity ideas to help keep your loved one active and engaged, subscribe to the free monthly newsletter at www.joyfilledvisits.com, or check out my book “Creating Joy Filled Visits in the Midst of Alzheimer’s – A Step by Step Guide to Engaging Fun for Family Caregivers”, available on Amazon or Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC.

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