Dementia alters the path of a person’s life irrevocably, not only are their memories taken from them, but they also suffer behavioural and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression. As many as 95% of people who are diagnosed with dementia experience behavioural and psychological symptoms and depression occurs in 20% to 40% of cases and anxiety in 5% to 20% of cases. Depression and anxiety can be fatal to people who have dementia, as they are directly linked to a reduced quality of life, increased mortality, and the loss of a purpose in life. There are a multitude of studies that show a correlation between greater purpose in life and lower rates of depression and sadness.  

A healthy individual of any age has many opportunities for meaningful engagements that build a sense of purpose in life, including being busy, being able to help out or volunteering, feeling useful to others, being listened to, connecting to someone in some kind of relationship or friendship, being engaged in a hobby, and more on a daily basis. However, someone with dementia is often removed from these things and, even though their caregivers are well-intentioned, they are seen for their disease and not their individuality. It is still important to some who has dementia, to feel useful and as a valuable individual. 

Focusing on purpose at Livewell

This is why we focus on individuality and well-being at Livewell. Upon arrival, we interview our residents and their families to gain a thorough understanding of the individual and their background. We want to find out what brings meaning to their lives, what their hobbies, likes and dislikes are, as well as their talents before being diagnosed with dementia so that we may tailor their activities. This helps us to ensure their lives and goals stay on track, to help them grow their sense of purpose – because purpose is fundamental to a person’s health and well-being. 

“We are all born with an innate sense of purpose. For some, it is to become an educator that will one day educate the individual who cures cancer, for others it is to actually be the individual that cures cancer. For some, purpose holds a certain literal connotation but for others, it is the emotional aspect that drives the purpose home. Many empaths have a purpose-driven life through advocating for those that cannot advocate for themselves. For someone living with dementia, to be woven into the tapestry of someone’s purpose becomes bigger than the goal or outcome. When one’s purpose is to care, to be a healer of the mental, emotional or physical, it is the driving force that enriches the lives of those living with dementia.” – Sean van Wyk, Quality of Life Manager

Creating an environment that fosters opportunities for purpose

There are a number of ways to create an environment for people with dementia to find a sense of purpose. Trained staff must be well-versed in the individuals’ history, that focuses on the meaningful relationships they’ve had in their past and present, their spirituality, activities they enjoy, and their goals in life. 

Meaningful engagements include doing crafts that are within their ability, perhaps even with the end result of donating them to the needy or gifting them to treasured family members. Helping out with simple chores such as folding clothes, sorting items, or setting the table, makes someone with dementia feel less of a burden to those around them as well as having the doubled effect of being a part of something bigger than themselves and their disease. Spending time reviewing their lives, such as going through old photographs or mementos, helps to ground them in their identity and their self-worth. People who have dementia can often more easily remember events from 30 years ago than the previous week.

These may seem like simple things, but they are very essential to the happiness of the person who has dementia and also provides a way for the caregivers to get a better understanding of who they are caring for.