When Caring Takes Courage

Activity Modification Care for People with Dementia

Elderly couple doing jigsaw puzzle
Alistair Berg / Getty Images

Activity professionals know that making each day a fun engaging choice of activities for residents is their job, however dealing with residents’ families is also part of the profession.

Sometimes family members become upset when they visit a loved one who has dementia. They ask: Why doesn’t Dad play Poker on Wednesdays? Why isn’t my Aunt Mae gardening? Why does my Mom only attend two events in a week?

Helping families understand how their loved ones lives have changed due to dementia, but can still be enjoyable is the focus of “When Caring Takes Courage” a book by Mara Botonis.

“This book contains over 700 Alzheimer’s Adapted Activity ideas to offer residents based upon their favorite hobbies and interests.  Under each hobby/interest category, you’ll find ideas designed to capitalize on the participant’s current skills and abilities, while engaging their senses and promoting a “failure free” way to enjoy past interests once again.  Activity ideas in the book are arranged by theme and offer over 25 activities for every level of ability (early, middle and late stage versions) in categories,” Botonis said.

Botonis began her 29-year career in caring for seniors as an aide at a skilled nursing facility at age 16 and became the  National Director of Sales and Marketing-memory Care for a Senior Living Provider with over 14,000 Alzheimer’s/Memory Care Beds/Units.

She later stepped down from her corporate role to serve families impacted by Alzheimer’s/dementia full-time. Botonis has a degree is in Business Administration, and learned what works for people living with dementia through the experience of working in care communities in over 30 states and as a staff development trainer.

“After twenty nine years in healthcare, working throughout the United States in the senior housing industry, my life and career trajectory was forever changed when a close family member was stricken with Alzheimer's,” she said.

“My passion and life’s work has been to support families in finding hope and happiness on a day-to-day basis in the face of this devastating disease.  My beloved Grandfather, Bill, is my inspiration for my commitment to those coping with the impact of Alzheimer’s.”

Botonis’ book provides useful, every day tips to help activity professionals and families of people with dementia understand not only disease, but most of all how to engage the individual with the disease.

“As you probably know all too well, a person with Alzheimer's or other dementia may need extra help, time and support to remain engaged in everyday activities.  There isn’t one easy answer or a single fool proof solution for how to keep participants connected to their surroundings or to the people in their life,” Botonis said. “However, there are ways for you to encourage their participation in events and activities happening around them.  As the disease progresses, you may need to make adjustments to the activity or task to best engage your participants.”

Below is a fiction scenario faced every day by activity directors and ideas on how it can be dealt with can be found in Botonis’ book.

Example: Mary retired from her practice as a cardiologist and moved from cold Michigan to warm Florida. She loved her condo neighbors, “the Gals” she called her five closest friends who joined her for lunch, sailing on her pontoon boat and of course the weekly Tuesday night scrapbook sessions.

As she entered her 80s, Mary slowed down a little and decided to sell her boat and buy a ticket to ride the waves. Sometimes when the Gals arrived for scrapbooking, Mary was wearing PJs at 4 p.m. When they asked, Mary would reply she was having a “sleep in day” or she “didn’t feel the need to dress up”, but her friends were worried.

Mary’s daughter Judy visited and found her mother’s life long dedication to “everything in its place” was no longer true. The house was messy, stacks of unpaid bills were in the kitchen, the bedroom and even the bathroom. An empty frig and talks with the Gals lead to a visit to the doctor that confirmed the second greatest health fear among Americans, Mary had dementia.  

Judy moved Mary into her home, but Mary walked away one day while Judy was running a 30 minute errand. Mary was found

“Why isn’t my Mom keeping up her family scrapbook?” Judy said. “My Mom read the New York Times medical section faithfully and I pay for delivery to her, but it’s stacked in a corner of her room!”

Look for tips in Part 2 of this article

For further information.

She also has a booklet:

Alzheimer’s Adapted Activity Ideas Booklet

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