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Fall Prevention

Activities for dementia patients - 8 creativity box and 5 life station ideas

According to Rachael Wonderlin of Dementia By Day, implementing an engaging program of appropriate activities for dementia patients can have a positive effect on fall rates. We are all for reducing falls in memory care so here are some of her recommended activities and life station ideas.

We know it can be challenging to manage and execute a program of activities that are going to be appropriate for residents whose cognitive skills are impaired such as people with dementia. You know you have to provide activities that engage your residents, are dementia friendly and ensure they're also fun. It's a tall order, so if you're looking for practical ideas for keeping your memory care residents entertained with a fun activity or ten, you're in the right place.

How can your activity program reduce falls in memory care?

If you know Accora then you'll know we're passionate about preventing falls, so before we come onto specific activity ideas, we just want to outline how life stations and a good activity program can prevent potential falls and significantly improve the quality of life for your dementia patients. According to Rachael Wonderlin of Dementia By Day, an activity program that keeps residents engaged can have a positive effect on fall rates. This is because people with dementia are more likely to fall when they are distressed, trying to go somewhere or otherwise in search of something.

"We've come to expect falls in senior living, especially in dementia care [but] there are things we can do to prevent falls in dementia care. When people are feeling calm and situated, guess what they're not doing? They're not walking down the hall, stressed as anything, looking for their loved ones, looking for the exit. Getting people to sit and engage, do something with their hands is going to be so key for preventing falls in dementia care." - Rachael Wonderlin

What is a creativity box?

A creativity box, as the name suggests, is a box with a creative activity inside. Although it doesn't have to be an actual box, just some kind of receptacle that contains the ingredients for an engaging activity. The hope is that creativity boxes present a sort of problem that needs to be solved. This results in the resident gaining a sense of achievement and it engages their attention for the duration of the activity.

8 creative activities for dementia patients

Although Rachael Wonderlin refers to these as "Creativity Boxes" they don't exactly need to contain something specifically creative, but it does have to be age-appropriate, safe and engaging. Here are some of her recommendations for fun and meaningful activities for memory care settings:

1. Folding towels - We've all done it a million times and it keeps the hands busy, so folding towels is a great one to begin with. Bring a basket or box of mixed-up towels and ask the residents if they could help you by folding them up and making a neat pile.

2. Sorting children's socks - Rachael recommends using baby socks to pair. They are cheap, they come in eye-catching patterns and colors but aren't big enough to end up on the resident's feet.

3. Washing or drying dishes - This is pretty self-explanatory, just relying on muscle memory to engage their hands with an everyday activity is the aim here.  

4. Sorting silverware - Mix up forks, knives and spoons and ask residents to "help you" by sorting them into smaller boxes. When they're done, take them away, mix them back up and bring in the "next" one for them to sort. Don't forget to thank them for all their help.

5. Flower arranging - Top tip, plastic flowers will last a whole lot longer and will probably be more cost-effective.  

6. Cleaning box - Some dusting or cleaning equipment that's safe to use can help to occupy idle hands in memory care.

7. Setting the table - As long as it's a meaningful and engaging physical activity then it can help to satisfy the need we have as humans to perform tasks and accomplish things. Board games and jigsaw puzzles are great mental exercises but we also like to problem-solve and resolve situations to feel accomplished and creativity boxes can help to manage that.

8. Winding cassette tapes - It's a little out there, but a few blunt pencils could be repurposed into DIY tape-fixing tools. This would be one of the most cost-effective activities if you can get old tapes donated. Your graduate nurses might be too young to know how to wind the film back into place, but your residents probably won't be. The best part is that a couple of tugs on the film will equal several minutes of winding time so it's a super ratio of effort to activity for your nurses.

What is a life station in memory care?

Life stations are areas that encourage a resident to engage with an instinctual activity or set of activities based around a theme or scenario. Essentially the idea is that it provides them with simple activities that meet them in their reality regardless of what period of their lives the individual believes they are in or the stage of dementia they are experiencing. For example, at any age in our adult life we could be presented with a basket full of clothes, some clothes pegs and a clothesline and know how all the items relate to each other. In short, we know what to do with the activity in front of us without being told. Life stations turn these instinctive actions from daily life into therapeutic activities that can give a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Unlike the creativity boxes, life stations are available all day and don’t need constant supervision.

5 Life Station ideas for dementia care

According to dementia expert, Rachael Wonderlin, "life stations delay exit-seeking" which makes them an asset in terms of fall prevention.

"When they're not engaged, what are they doing? The answer is, 'everything you don't want them to be doing'."

If they are wandering and searching, then they could easily become agitated and that's when they're most likely to be at risk of falling. Life stations dotted around the facility can give wandering residents a clear purpose. So here are some you could try:

1. Baby life station - These are the most common life stations we see because they don't need to take up a lot of space and are easy to source items for. As long as the dolls look realistic and not creepy, you should be good to go with a changing table or crib, some diapers, a swaddle and a bottle. Bonus points if you have a rocking chair/glider there. These are particularly good for fall prevention because when a resident with cognitive impairment is holding something like a baby that is alive in their reality, they are going to be extra careful and not risk falling while holding the baby.  

2. A pet shop - Rachael recommends the "pets" from Memorable Pets as they are lifelike but don't make noise. You can get ones that require batteries and make animal noises but keeping them powered up is an additional task. A toy dog or cat, a grooming brush, a pet bed and a couple of toys are all you need for a compact but functional life station here.

3. A bus stop - You can get a bus stop sign from Amazon and put a bench against the wall. Voila! A bus stop. Or like in this picture at ThriveMore Brookridge (middle image below), you could use your walls to create scenes that are both beautiful and functional as a life station. Activities that encourage sitting with purpose can delay exit-seeking and prevent falls that would occur if they were wandering.

4. A train or a train station - One facility (above, left) has gone all out with this one. They have an area which is clearly designed for waiting for the train but they also have a train carriage with TV screen "windows" that show landscapes passing like the train is moving. Every instinctual activity here involves sitting so that can help mitigate fall risk.

5. A garden station - Stay with us. You're thinking about compost and fertilizer and sharp things but that's not what this. You can have plastic flower arranging here and you can have herb seeds and an aerogarden for mess-free plant growing indoors.

Rachael Wonderlin's top tips for implementing a successful activity program in dementia care

Now that you have some ideas for activities for people in memory care settings, you might be wondering about how to best implement them in your facility. Rachael shares her top tips for a successful activity program.

Make a calendar - "Every community needs a calendar that is visible and allows for holding people accountable."

Plan on it - "No day will go exactly as planned but it is far better to have a plan. You need a calendar. You need a plan because no day is going to go perfectly in dementia care but you can get pretty darn close."

Assign times - "You need assigned times on the calendar, you can't just say here's the general layout for the day. You need times."

Count 'em - "You need at least 6 activities a day. These residents need things to do and to be engaged.”

Get out of here - Rachael recommends "there is an outing at least once a week. There's entertainment coming in at least twice a month."

Ditch the kids crafts - "You need to consider true age-appropriateness." Activities need to be "age-appropriate and dementia-friendly". So, veto anything that looks like it was made for preschool and embrace tasks and puzzles that engage the mind and keep the hands busy while respecting the person's age.

Final thoughts

Planning activities for dementia patients in long-term care communities can feel like a thankless task at times but it's so important for the quality of life and wellbeing of the residents. Being able to "embrace their reality" as Rachael says, in the moment is key to making their reality a better place for them. For people with dementia, spending time on meaningful and purposeful activities they understand can help their sense of situation and belonging and that's the best we can offer until someone figures out how to reverse memory loss and cognitive impairment .

If you found this article insightful then please take a moment to share it with your network so that others can benefit from this information too. We think you may also find our on-demand online training session with dementia expert Rachael Wonderlin informative and helpful. You can find our library of on-demand webinars and our future free learning events on our website right now.

Sources

5 Tangible Ways to Prevent Falls in Dementia Care. (May 6th 2024). [Webinar]. Retrieved from https://us.accora.care/webinars/5-tangible-ways-to-prevent-falls-in-dementia-care

Fall Prevention
Long Term Care
Accora Team
FloorBed technology to help skilled nursing, rehabilitation and long term-care facilities prevent falls and fall-related injuries.
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