Valentine’s Day Activity for Different Stages of Dementia
What are your favorite Valentine’s Day memories? Do they include chocolates, flowers, or passing Valentine’s cards to your crush in elementary school? Although individuals with dementia may forget recent things, they hold onto long term memories far into the diagnosis. This means, they will likely remember the familiar fuzzy feelings that come along with celebrating this holiday all about love. In this blog, we’ll be sharing how to adjust a classic Valentine’s Day activity so that you and your care recipient can celebrate together.
This Valentine’s Day I want to give you the tools to help a person with dementia participate in purposeful and meaningful activities so that they, too, can participate in these familiar traditions!
What are the different stages of dementia?
Dementia is a degenerative disease of the brain that impacts communication, function, and thinking skills. There are many different kinds of dementia, but across all diagnoses the commonality is that it gets worse over time. As the disease progresses, it can be classified into different stages.
Although there are many different scales to describe this progression, the most common scale is simply:
Mild – Individuals are mostly independent but may show signs of recent memory loss, such as misplacing items. They also have difficulty with complex thinking tasks like planning and concentration.
Moderate- Individuals exhibit further memory loss of important details such as personal information and names of family members. They also will be more disoriented to time and place, and have difficulty communicating their wants and needs. Mood changes are also common resulting in changes in their personality.
Severe- individuals are now unable to sequence steps and require extensive assistance with all care tasks. Their communication isn’t very functional and they begin to “revert” back to how they thought and acted when they were younger.
Why is it important for someone with dementia to participate in activities?
Individuals with dementia exhibit so many changes which can be difficult for those who are close to them. They will often not be able to participate in the things they once enjoyed and will begin to need more and more assistance from others. Despite all of these changes, one of the aspects of personhood that does not deteriorate with a diagnosis of dementia is the need for love, purpose, and fulfillment.
When individuals with dementia participate in activities it results in enhanced engagement and participation, improved independence, increased socialization, and reduced negative emotions and behaviors such as anxiety, agitation, wandering, depression, isolation, anger, and boredom. Although participation in a Valentine’s Day activity may not look the same with someone with dementia as it used to, it is worth the extra work and creativity to provide them with this opportunity.
How do we help someone with dementia participate in a Valentine activity?
There’s a concept called “grading” in the therapy world. Grading is simply increasing or decreasing the complexity of a task based on how the individual is responding to it. If something is too easy, we can grade the task up to make it a greater challenge and if it is too difficult, we would grade it down to make it easier and increase their success. Our overall goal is for the individual to be able to successfully complete an activity while still feeling challenged. This often results in a feeling of fulfillment and purpose, too!
We want to apply these same principles with a Valentine’s Day activity! Because different stages of dementia require different levels of assistance, I will break down how we can “grade” the task of making Valentines cards:
For Mild Dementia: Create a Valentine’s Day Card:
Mild Dementia - They will likely be able to create a card with only minimal assistance.
Full Preparation of the card: We can provide the supplies and cast a vision. They can cut, glue, trace, and color with occasional encouragement and directions.
Creating a Message: We can challenge them by asking them to write a poem inside or create a message with the word “sweet” in it!
Sending the Card: They can scan an address book to find contact information for the recipient of a card and fill out the envelope.
Moderate Dementia - You can view this activity as 50% participation from both the care partner and the person with dementia.
With a care partner showing them how to start, they may be able to trace shapes, cut out designs, and can place glue on the paper.
Sorting Supplies: They can sort supplies by color by asking them, “Pull out all the red and pink pieces of paper from this stack.”
Copying a Message: To write a message, the care partner can write a short, simple example on a piece of paper or a white board for the person with dementia to copy.
Severe Dementia - They will require you to do most of the work with their assistance.
Supervision and Assistance: They may be able to follow one step, simple directions such as “Hand me the red paper.” They make the best “supervisors”!
Sensory stimulation: If unable to follow directions, they can participate in activities that engage the other senses. Listening to love songs from their early adulthood can be comforting and relaxing.
Reminiscing: They can also look at pictures of friends or family they love while listening to reminiscing stories.
An expression of love
When you help someone with dementia create a Valentine card, you allow them an opportunity to communicate love for another person. They likely wouldn’t have this opportunity or ability without your assistance. You help them love others.
More than that, though, is your own expression of love as a care partner. By slowing down, thinking creatively, and filling in the gaps for what they cannot do, they will feel loved.
This is what Valentine’s Day is all about!
Hi! I'm Adria Thompson. Let's get down to it... I'm deeply passionate for the large (ever growing) population of people with dementia in this world. I have the experience, creativity, and the heart to help you solve problems.