The challenge of developing meaningful activities for Alzheimer’s disease patients is a difficult one. Therapeutic activities which rely on long-term memory skills and involve simple, repetitive, sequential motions may help support the remaining abilities of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Dignified and adult-like chores or tasks can help nurture a sense of self-worth and competency, encourage independence, preserve the integrity of the individual, and maintain functional abilities.
This study compared the differences in levels of concentration when patients with Alzheimer’s disease worked on either familiar or unfamiliar tasks. Familiar task choices were based on suggestions from family members, and included such chores as folding towels, dusting, washing dishes, and preparing snacks. Unfamiliar tasks such as sorting coat hangers or stuffing envelopes were selected by staff as examples of tasks which were not routinely performed as part of the patients’ pre-morbid life activities. A second part of the study looked at how choices and decision-making affected the ability of patients with Alzheimer’s disease to concentrate on these tasks.
Seven female patients were offered a variety of decision-making opportunities which included whether or not to participate in an activity, as well as the chance to express preferences. Patients who worked on both familiar and unfamiliar tasks concentrated an average of 13.8 minutes out of the 15-minute period. Seventy-five percent of the patients concentrated during the entire activity period. Patients were not distracted by sights and sounds in the environment when they worked on familiar tasks.
In a structured setting, patients with Alzheimer’s disease can make responsible and pertinent decisions as well as express preferences. The ability to concentrate may be enhanced when patients are encouraged to engage in therapeutic activities that recall tasks performed prior to the onset of illness. These tasks, which require sequential, repetitive physical motions, should rely on long-term memory skills. Even though art or music may be part of the scheduled programming, there are often long periods of time when patients are inactive. Activities like stuffing papers in envelopes, sorting silverware, folding towels, or matching socks are dignified and therapeutic activities that can help support remaining abilities and encourage the independence and integrity of patients with minimal need for staff intervention.