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"Is it age appropriate?"

Updated: Dec 1, 2019

“Age appropriate” is something that I hear often in dementia care and it’s something that I completely disagree with. The question shouldn’t be “Is it age appropriate?” The question should be “does it bring joy?” says Jenni Mack

Here, she explains why.

In my own experience in dementia care many things which are perhaps initially questioned are – in the end – wonderful additions to person centred, joy inducing activities. Wooden bead mazes (where beads are pulled along twisted coloured wires) fidget spinners, sensory toys, baby dolls (doll therapy) and various other games and toys (Elefun is a favourite in my care home) bring so much joy on a 1-1 or group basis. So, should we take these things away because their initial product marketing was aimed at children? I believe this would be a tragic decision.

This same argument can be applied to music. Party songs are part of everyone’s life at some point, whether it’s in your own childhood or that of your children or grandchildren. Children’s party songs are catchy, happy songs usually with actions and are mostly connected to people’s happy memories. Who doesn’t love the Hokey cokey? The added benefit of this type of song is that the movements are simple and repetitive and all the endorphin inducing “dancing” helps maintain movement, which makes a huge difference to general well-being. Again, should we refrain from using this sort of music because it is aimed at children?

Many people say that those living with dementia “revert back” to childhood behaviours, however this can be a beautiful thing when accepted for what it is. In childhood life is simple, if something makes you happy you smile, if it makes you sad, you cry. And when things are beautiful and colourful and fun, you laugh. You live in each moment as if it’s the only one that matters, and tomorrow isn’t even a consideration. Life like this could be a wonderful experience.

Sensory activities are wonderful ways of interacting with people during all stages of dementia. Smells, sounds and touch all induce memories which can begin wonderful lengthy detailed conversations about Mother’s baking, or family holidays to the caravan, visits to Granny’s for Sunday dinner or playing in the garden with siblings.

When left without mental stimulation the mind – like a muscle – will become unable to work as well as it used to, so it is very important to keep the mind “active” without causing confusion with tasks that may be too difficult. Tasks such as “matching and pairing”, Snap, Snakes and Ladders, Sudoku and other games are wonderful for this.

Games and tasks that are simple, yet fun will not only keep the mind sharper but give a sense of achievement when completed. Also, where eyesight is affected by age or health condition – brightly coloured and larger scale games suit best. When looking for simple and brightly coloured activity resources you will automatically find those aimed at children.

Doll Therapy has been proven to have amazing soothing properties for people living with dementia as “nurturing” is a natural human instinct and by “mothering” these dolls the person living with dementia feels calm, loving, and in a way “meaningful and purposeful” as they are “responsible” for something else. The fact that the initial product was intended for a child to role play with should not matter in this instance at all.

The joy you see on the faces of those who are “caring” for their “babies” is concrete evidence that no harm is done by providing these types of activities.

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