West Virginia University releases activity manual for dementia caregiving

·3 min read

May 17—West Virginia University faculty members and graduate students have put together an activity guide that includes games, trivia and crafts designed to aid in dementia caregiving.

The Appalachian Activities for Dementia Manual was created using psychology, social work and neuroscience research. The manual is designed especially for individuals with dementia and other cognitive disorders who grew up in the Appalachian region. It incorporates Appalachian culture to support the ability of those individuals to remember past experiences, as well as to connect with the senses of those individuals.

Michaela Clark, a fourth-year graduate student in WVU's Life-Span Developmental Ph.D. program, developed a lot of the material in the manual and worked with Professor of Social Work Kristina Hash to put the manual together.

Clark said dementia is an umbrella term for several different medical conditions that are characterized by abnormal brain changes, resulting in the decline of many cognitive abilities. Those observing individuals with dementia may also notice changes in behavior or emotions.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which accounts for about two-thirds of all dementia cases in the United States.

The overall goal of the manual is to improve the lives of older adults with dementia, Clark said.

"Not only do we want to develop activities that people can do with their loved ones, but also find activities that are appropriate for long-term-care-facility-type settings to help nursing home staff as well, " she said.

The manual is designed predominantly for interactive use by caregivers attending to individuals who have dementia.

Clark said caregiving is a tough job, not only for those who provide care in the aforementioned facilities, but also for those who care for their loved ones at home.

Clark created the sections of the manual that include matching games, foods that would have been well-known to adults in the Appalachian region and famous adults—mostly musicians—who would have been particularly popular with older people in the Appalachian region, like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton.

Lab assistants and other graduate students helped pull together information to contribute to other sections to the manual, including researching sounds recognizable in the Appalachian region such as train whistles, as well as games and crafts popular in the area.

These activities and sensory stimuli support dementia caregiving by encouraging individuals with dementia to recall memories of previous experiences with such activities.

"What happens with dementia is generally the last things that are learned are the first things that go. So, what we want to do is pull on some of those early memories. That's why we use stimuli they would have been really, really familiar with, " Clark said.

The stimuli included in the manual are designed to evoke happy memories, start conversations and get individuals with dementia engaged so they can adequately relive the memories they're experiencing.

Though the manual is complete and available for free use, Clark's work regarding individuals with dementia and the people who care for them is far from done. She plans to continue researching and expand the manual for her dissertation.

Clark's dissertation work will examine the differences between traditional Montessori activities with older adults and the Montessori-styled but Appalachian-themed activities presented in the WVU manual.

There is a small body of research that suggests there is a benefit to using culturally sensitive materials over generic ones in dementia caregiving.

"[I'll be ] looking at differences in affect and engagement to see if there's an improvement for those culturally specific type of materials, " Clark said.

Her dissertation is still in the early stages, as she is working on obtaining Institutional Review Board approval for data collection.

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