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Work Experience Opportunities Give Dementia Sufferers a Sense of Purpose

Dementia research from the College of Occupational Therapists has proposed that work experience may help some dementia sufferers to cope with their condition and restore their sense of self.

Residents 2 at Kingswood Court

Confidence-Building

Work experience, as long as it is related to a passion or interest, is thought to be beneficial to those with dementia. Work is a route to freedom from the worst aspects of the condition. It is a great way to promote restorative social interaction and gives the individual a productive way in which to engage with life again.

A recent statement from the College of Occupational Therapists has extolled the virtues of work activities for dementia sufferers. Work activities are those that we undertake to demonstrate to ourselves and others that we are competent and valued members of society. Lack of work opportunities can be alienating and undermining. Dementia does not reduce the human need to feel valued, but it does sometimes affect the person’s ability to carry out tasks successfully. With the right support, dementia sufferers can engage in the meaningful world of work whilst still remaining secure in the care of their own support network.

Paid Employment Opportunities

Most people with dementia who are suited to taking on a position of paid employment will do so within a residential care home setting so that they can remain supported by staff during their activities. However, within this setting there are numerous employment opportunities. The key to the type of work suitable for each individual is that it has to be something relevant to their life story and in line with their interests. Beyond these criteria, the boundaries of what work can be done by residents should remain completely flexible, and managers and care support staff should think outside the box when it comes to finding meaningful activities for their residents. For example, DIY work can encompass any number of skills, from decorating to dry stone walling. Gardening can be border design or leaf raking, compost making or greenhouse propagating. Vehicle maintenance can be as diverse as car valeting or changing tyres. Skills like upholstering, knitting and sewing, baking and writing news articles for the home’s newsletter are all things that can be unaffected by a diagnosis of dementia, and these are just a few examples.

Working at Home

Paid employment experiences will not be suitable for every person. However, in a residential care home, there are many opportunities to contribute. Work does not necessarily have to mean paid work: it can be any activity that has a value to the collective. Dementia care has to be person-centred, and if there are opportunities for residents to be involved in the running of the nursing home in ways which promote their own well being, those opportunities should be taken. Many people enjoy activities such as cooking, gardening and decorating, and with support, dementia is no barrier to engaging in those activities if they connect people to their past and to their innate passions.

The feelings of hopelessness, isolation and frustration which many dementia sufferers experience are alleviated by engaging in work activity – paid or unpaid. Fostering a connection to people by providing a service is vital for self-confidence and self-esteem, and occupational therapy is crucial for maintaining physical and mental health for older people.

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