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How to Create Meaning in Dementia Care

Everyone deserves to feel needed and have a sense of purpose

By Mike Good

(Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series examining and interpreting a commonly used "bill of rights" for dementia patients.) 

One of the most important things to a caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s is to know their loved one is happy. However, they are often so overwhelmed by the responsibility of caregiving, that the fun of being together is lost.

All engagement tends to be for survival and not for enrichment. This often results in a negative atmosphere affecting the mood of everyone, including the person with Alzheimer’s. Left unchecked, the resulting tensions will often lead to behavioral issues from both individuals.

Slipping Away

Unsure how to even act around each other, the care partners (the person with Alzheimer’s and his or her caregiver) may fall into a world of isolation. They may worry about what others think or feel their situation is unlike others’. They can become so uncomfortable that they may withdraw from family, friends and society.

Changing these tendencies is important to the health and well-being of both individuals because meaningful human interaction, whether in a one-on-one situation or in a group setting, is important to everyone’s happiness.

Finding Happiness

With Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important that engagement is adapted to meet the changing needs of the individual while focusing on the things that enrich the person's life and bring happiness. For this to work, the caregiver must accept how things are now and discover ways to incorporate meaningful activities on daily basis.

While a caregiver will routinely look back at how things were, it’s vital to appreciate that the person with Alzheimer’s is the same person as in the past. It’s the disease that’s making the individual act different, and typically, the same things will still bring happiness to his or her heart.

These men and women still want to be included in activities and to do things for themselves. To continually foster this throughout the disease progression, the caregiver needs to provide subtle assistance when appropriate and remain creative in identifying ways to help maintain the confidence and independence of the individual.


Purpose and Confidence

The Best Friends Dementia Bill of Rights states that every person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s has the right “to experience meaningful engagement throughout the day.” Whether this engagement is activity or socially based, it’s always important to empower the individual to be successful.

For instance, if the person is having a conversation with a friend but can’t remember a detail, subtly filling in the missing fact can help. Or if he or she is searching for the peanut butter to make a sandwich, placing it on the counter might reduce any agitation.


Keeping a loved one involved with meaningful activities rather than sitting him or her in front of a television for hours generally results in fewer behavioral complications. It also leads to more meaningful engagement and enriched lives for both individuals.

Whether it’s refolding the same basket of clothes several times or helping prepare dinner, the caregiver must remain creative in finding ways that create purpose and enrich a loved one’s day.

This responsibility creates a lot of pressure on the caregiver, so let’s not forget that every caregiver also deserves meaningful engagement on a regular basis. Helping the caregiver find time to step away and engage with other people will also help protect their well-being; meaningful engagement is important for all.

Mike Good is founder of Together in This, an online community helping family members caring for someone with Alzheimer's. His goal is to provide information and tools to help caregivers take control and find peace-of-mind. Read More
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