Sleepy, Grumpy, Bashful, and Dopey? How to Elicit the “Happier” Dwarf in People with Dementia

How to Elicit the "Happier" Dwarf in People with Dementia

Do you worry your patients are not progressing because their negative behaviors interfere with treatment? Are you documenting symptoms of depression, anxiety, lack of motivation or engagement in the therapy? The theoretical approach below explains why your patients respond the way they do and how to tailor interventions for positive responses.

Adapt to Their Sensory Processing

Have you noticed that different people respond to crowds, noise, texture, or foods differently? Through important neuroscience advances, we now understand that the differences in how people process sensory information are not “bad” or meant to be fixed. Instead, these differences are meant to be acknowledged and supported.

When people can identify their own sensory processing style, they can choose activities or make the environmental changes that make them most comfortable. People with dementia may be unable to articulate their preferred sensory stimulation, which can lead to behavioral disruptions.

By learning to identify your patient’s sensory processing style and appropriate therapeutic strategies, you will be able to support their sensory preferences and maximize their engagement in your therapy. You may also need to be mindful of sensory limitations occurring as dementia progresses.

Make Their Daily Activities Meaningful

Imagine living in an environment (home or facility) where you don’t have meaningful structure to your day or the structure provided doesn’t align with your activity preferences. For example, you can’t stand playing BINGO or singing songs but that is a large portion of what is offered in your long-term care facility. If you can truly imagine this scenario, you might say, “I’d go crazy!” or “I would be depressed.”

Rigorous studies have shown that tailoring the schedule to include meaningful activity, at the level of challenge that is achievable for the person, reduces negative behavior and increases satisfaction and mood.

Consider Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies lie outside of conventional medicine, yet they are used to prevent illness and promote health and well-being. We view them as potentially adjunctive to the typical therapies as way to decrease negative behavior and provoke calmness and task attention. Evidence supports:

  • Snoezelen environments
  • Music therapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Massage
  • Light
  • White noise
  • Wandering paths
  • Visual distractions
  • Culture change in long term nursing environments

Although it’s not an easy task, any therapist can elicit the “happier” dwarf in their patients. Start by understanding the patient’s sensory preferences, scheduling meaningful activities during their day and exploring some alternative therapies to promote their well-being.