How about having him sweeping up the leaves in
the backyard? Filling bird-feeders with seed? If you
get him weeding, be prepared for the consequences of
a person with dementia who no longer knows a weed
from a treasured garden guest.
When we craft an activity plan for our family
member with dementia we look for something which
evokes what was familiar in a way that doesn’t hold
to forgotten standards. And as the caregiver, we
commit to letting go of our standards of perfection.
The activity works simply by absorbing the
person. Sometimes, your Mom could wash and dry
the dishes. So what if you have to redo them?
Mom felt useful and helpful and it brought back to
her a life in which she was the woman who held the
family home together.
These activities fill time, yes, but they also
remind people who they were when they did not have
dementia. I doubt they think it through in that way,
though. I suspect they simply feel a more peaceful,
more settled sense of belonging.
The desire in the dementia wanderer is often
simply to want to go somewhere, anywhere but where
they are. In assessing problem dementia
behaviors, we always look at both the obvious
message and the metaphor. Dementia allows people to
operate at a number of different mental levels all
combining into this present moment – which in
itself might actually be South Dakota, 1926, for the
person with dementia. Time zones may blend as that
person’s life has now blended into its own story,
How do we bring satisfaction to the wanderer?
Well, obviously, an actual walking program is a
great idea. The caregiver need not be the one to do
this. Ask a family member, a neighbor, a high school
kid you trust, a volunteer from the senior center
– any of whom can be great company on a walk. Hire
someone to do the daily walk – it’ll be a good
To organize this, you plan it, you set the
boundaries in time and distance, you train the
walker who’ll go with your wanderer. You explain
dementia. You prepare them.
Add to this, a driving program. Most people with
dementia love a drive in the car. It’s the most
active passive entertainment for an elder. It should
probably end at an ice-cream parlor or a fruit stand
or somewhere else involving food.