13: Activity-Focused Dementia Care: Meaningful Activities

This program will help you:

  • Define activity-focused dementia care
  • Understand daily activities as personally meaningful occupation
  • Identify opportunities for using meaningful activities during the day
  • Discuss different types of meaningful activities
  • There are no easy answer when its comes to the care of another
  • Our hope is to offer you useful information and guidelines for caring for someone with dementia
  • These guidelines will need to be adjusted to suit your own individual needs

Activity-focused dementia care

  • Incorporates meaningful activities into daily life
  • Includes any kind of activity that is meaningful to the person

Person-centered care

  • Focuses on individual needs and wants
  • Considers personal preferences, habits and routines

Abilities-focused care

  • Identify and encourage use of retained skills and capacities
  • Compensates for dementia-related problems and limitations
  • Allows for successes at the person’s level of ability


  • All members of the care team should provide activity-focused care
  • There are many members in a care team
  • At home
  • Family members, friends, healthcare providers, home health providers, assistants, and volunteers
  • Long-term care facility
  • Activities directors, social workers, administrators, medical and nursing directors, certified nursing assistants, nurses, physicians, therapists, activities specialists, volunteers, and involved family members
  • Family members know and understand the person
  • Physicians
  • Occupational therapists
  • Speech and language pathologists
  • Recreational, music, art and other activity therapists
  • Dieticians
  • Administrators of nursing homes

Occupation: all of the major ways in which people meaningfully occupy their time Meaningful activities

  • Have a purpose
  • Are socially and age-appropriate
  • Are voluntary
  • Are pleasurable
  • Support interest and engagement
  • Meet a person’s wants and needs

Why do you think Robert wants to walk outside at night?

  • A. Robert enjoys walking.
  • B. Robert likes spending time alone.
  • C. Walking in nature after dinner has been part of Robert’s evening routine for years.
  • D. Walking is one way Robert can get exercise and relax.
  • E. All of the above.

Choice E: All of the above, is the best answer.

  • The purpose of this example is to convey why even a simple activity such as walking outside after dinner can make a difference in the day of those with dementia and their caregivers
  • When a person with dementia wants to do something, it is important to try to understand all of the reasons why that activity is meaningful to her/him
  • It is the caregiver’s responsibility to balance this need with the person’s safety
  • Activities of daily living
  • Productive activities
  • Leisure and social activities
  • Spiritual activities

Activities that people carry out every day as part of their established daily routines

  • Basic activities of daily living (BADL)
  • Instrumental activities of daily living (IADL)

Basic Activities of Daily Life (BADLs)

  • Self care needs
  • Highly repetitive, routine, over-learned and performed automatically
  • Combing one’s hair
  • Shaving
  • Brushing one’s teeth
  • Dressing
  • Directed outward toward our living environments
  • Include caring for our homes and other people
    • Stir ingredients or peel potatoes
    • Sorting change
    • Raking leaves
    • Sweeping the floor
    • Wiping the table
    • Drying dishes
    • Folding towels
  • Give people a sense of usefulness
  • Major life interests or occupational roles
  • Activity-focused dementia care incorporates a person’s personal history of productive activities into present day activities
  • Hobbies
  • Crafts
  • Games
  • Planned or spontaneous
  • Help people feel connected with others in positive ways
  • Most leisure activities involve “active doing”
  • Perform physical activities each day to help maintain their physical fitness
  • “Being” activities are sedentary
  • Key is to balance the active and being activities
  • Activities with a spiritual dimension can give special meaning and purpose to people’s lives
  • Can help reduce stress and agitation or help cope with difficult issues
  • Respect the spiritual preferences of each person
  • Include aspects of their spirituality in daily activities
  • Meaningful activities are:
    • Voluntary
    • Purposeful
    • Socially and age-appropriate
    • Interesting
    • Engaging
  • Activity-focused dementia care can include activities that are:
    • Spontaneous or planned
    • Part of regular routines or special events
    • Social or solitary
  • Activity-focused dementia care encompasses the entire day and all the activities that fill it with meaning and purpose
  • The very best activity-focused care occurs when all those involved in caregiving participate to provide meaningful activities throughout the day

Written by:
Catherine M. Harris, PhD, RNCS.
Mindy J. Kim-Miller, MD, PhD

Edited by:
Sasha Asdourian


12: Using Communication to Manage Challenging Behaviors

Select the best answers from the list of choices following each question.

Click here to open Certificate of Completion
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