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Better Dementia Care through Life Enrichment

Creating Purpose, Meaning, and Joy at ComfortCare Homes

For many, the picture of day-to-day life inside dementia-care facilities may include bingo games, beauty parlors, and movie nights. But these stereotypical “activities” are far from the reality for residents of ComfortCare Homes. Within these neighborhood homes, adapted for small groups of people with various forms of dementia, a commitment to person-centered care opens the door to infinite ways to engage and enrich the life of each individual.

Micala Gingrich-Gaylord, Director of Engagement at ComfortCare Homes, says the word “engagement” in her title is key. “Activities simply keep people busy. Enrichment and engagement are about increasing the quality of life by infusing meaning into every day,” she says. “At ComfortCare Homes, we don’t judge our success by the number of events or activities we offer, but by how effective we are in connecting with each person we serve.”

Elderly woman and art project

Tailored Attention

Creating an environment of connection and meaning begins by getting to know each person in depth. ComfortCare Homes staff listen to family members share memories and work to understand the details of careers, passions, hobbies, and interests. 

Each person’s unique life story and interests become pathways to personal engagement. For instance, two residents happened to spend their careers on a newspaper staff, so Gingrich-Gaylord found videos about the printing process and ways to interact with the newspaper to stimulate memories. Another resident’s love of gardening inspired a flower-picking trip followed by floral arranging around the kitchen table. 

Of course, for residents experiencing cognitive declines, creating personal connections can be challenging. “Dementia creates barriers and screens to people’s personalities and memories, so you have to keep looking and searching,” says Gingrich-Gaylord. “Loved ones can help us know what’s been most important in their life, what their interests are, and most importantly, what brings them joy, and plan accordingly.”

Elderly residents exploring hobbies

Benefits of Play

Because people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can feel heightened anxiety, another important aspect to a culture of engagement is finding ways to redirect negative energy. Gingrich-Gaylord borrowed from her training and early career experience as a children’s social worker to adapt the concepts of play therapy for older adults. “The concept of ‘cognitive restructuring’ is really about refocusing someone’s attention,” she says. “It can be a simple distraction; anything that quiets and redirects the mind.” In training the ComfortCare staff, Gingrich-Gaylord invites them to remember the seemingly limitless, goal-free feeling “play” created when they were children and channel carefree spirit into interactions. 

Music and the creative arts are often helpful in shifting the tone. Recently, residents were invited to become orchestral directors, waving wands with ribbons attached as they listened to classical symphonies. The more open-ended the exercise, the better, says Gingrich-Gaylord.

“By focusing only on the moment, residents’ anxieties are lessened. They feel less pressure to remember what they’ve forgotten or to meet a certain outcome.”

Elderly woman doing baking activity

Creating Purpose

Another important element for ComfortCare residents is infusing a sense of purpose into daily routines. “Dementia is devastating because it not only takes away precious memories, but it also takes away a person’s purpose, which lends life meaning and brings so much joy,” says Gingrich-Gaylord. 

Because ComfortCare Homes welcomes residents in all stages of dementia, choosing specific tasks for specific people is crucial. One resident sweeps leaves and dust from the porch, something he enjoyed long before his dementia worsened. Another looks forward to helping bake cookies. Offering easy-to-complete challenges fosters a sense of success on individual terms.

Gingrich-Gaylord admits she has also adjusted her own expectations for how to gauge the success of any given engagement strategy.

“I used to think that ‘success’ was when a resident completed a project correctly,” she says. “Now, I understand that success is seeing connections happen among our residents. It’s watching someone share their art supplies with a neighbor — it’s that moment of tenderness and human connection that truly gives life to our days.”

As the leader in dementia care throughout the Midwest, ComfortCare Homes Inc. is inspiring caregivers and all those in the industry to embrace a caregiving model truly meant to bring greater meaning to the lives of those we serve. 

If you are considering professional care for your loved one with dementia, be sure to ask about how our staff bring purpose, meaning and joy to each and every resident. We invite you to reach out to ComfortCare Homes with your questions or a free consultation. For more than 25 years, we’ve specialized exclusively in dementia care. ComfortCare Homes is the best choice for care of all types of dementia diagnoses. Call 316-685-3322 today.

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