6 moments to make contact with people with dementia

How can you, from the perspective of Positive Health, make contact with people with dementia in a care home? Vilans, together with care workers, identified the moments during the day when contact can be made and how. The insights gained, along with examples and tips, have been published in a booklet (Dutch), “Een dag uit het leven van …” or (English), “A day in the life of …”

Positive Health starts with the realisation that people are not their illnesses and that the focus should therefore not be so much on the disease. Positive Health means looking at people’s resilience, at what gives their lives meaning and where they want to focus their energy. The booklet describes 6 moments for care workers in which they can make contact with persons with dementia and get to know them better.

1. Morning and evening ritual

Look at how you can maintain the person’s morning or evening ritual as much as possible. Think for example of going through the newspaper together and talking about it, or listening to music together. Try to find out what the person is used to doing by observing or by asking questions. If the person is not able to tell you the whole story, involve the people close to them.

2. Mealtimes

Everyone has their own preferences at mealtimes. At breakfast, lunch or dinner. What time do you eat? Do you prefer to eat alone or in a group? And what do you like to eat and drink? Perhaps the resident prefers to prepare the food and set the table themselves. Or perhaps they prefer to help clear up. A person with dementia also has their own habits and preferences in this respect. Try to map out the eating habits, wants and needs of the person as much as possible and match these to the caregiver.

3. Visits and contact with relatives

Caregivers and (other) relatives often know a lot about the resident. How has this person led their life? What do they find important and enjoyable? Caregivers and loved ones often have answers to these kinds of questions. An important moment to receive this information is when someone moves to the care home. However, even if someone has been living in the home for some time, moments of contact with loved ones are useful for getting to know the resident better. Behaviour and preferences can change constantly in people with dementia. It can help to fill in the My Positive Health tool at different stages with the resident and family and relatives. See if things have changed, and how you can respond to this.

4. From need to what’s appropriate at the time

Perhaps the person with dementia wants to be alone sometimes and at other times wants to do a certain activity in a group. If you know the person’s needs, you can adapt to them. If someone wants to participate in a group activity, then you have the opportunity to do something together. That way you can get to know the person better. For example, painting or listening to music together. You can observe the person within the dynamics of a group. Having a conversation in the group or doing something together can also be useful to make a connection between one person and another. In this way, you can initiate contact with each other in an accessible way.

5. One-on-one conversation

In individual conversations, you can, for example, use inspiration cards with images to seek out contact. A photo of a wedding for example, a person who looks worried, a child with a cat. Someone often has vivid memories of where they used to live. Together with a resident, look up their old address via Google Street View. These are all accessible ways to start a conversation about someone’s past!

6. The team meeting

A team meeting can be a good moment to share observations and experiences. These stories help you to get to know the person with dementia better. For example, share happy moments of residents with each other. What touched you and how did you or your colleague react? By dealing with specific cases once in a while, you and your colleagues can take some time to reflect on the example and exchange experiences or tips.