Assisted living communities can improve the quality of life for people with dementia when they treat them as individuals and try to include everyone in activities, according to a new study.

Typical “activity programming” at many assisted living residences can leave people with dementia on the sidelines, the study finds.

The researchers report that keys to improving quality of life for residents with dementia are getting to know them as individuals, meeting people “where they are,” being in the moment with people, and viewing all interactions with residents as opportunities to connect.

“COVID-19 highlights the importance of meaningful engagement for everyone, especially for persons living with dementia,” says Candace Kemp, a professor at Georgia State University’s Gerontology Institute and principle investigator of the study in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

“Doing things that are enjoyable and being engaged to the extent possible and desirable are significant for quality of life and quality of care,” Kemp says.

Researchers conducted interviews and observations involving 33 assisted living residents with varying types of dementia and levels of functional ability. They represent a diversity of gender, age, race and ethnicity, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The findings show that actively “listening and observing verbal and non-verbal cues were keys to connecting and meeting residents on their own terms.” The researchers urge caregivers to try to include all residents in activities and not to assume that people with dementia can’t benefit from activities simply because they may not be able to respond in the same way as other residents.

The research has implications in the COVID-19 era, which has limited visits from family and friends at many assisted living facilities and restricted group activities and gathering for meals.

Read the full article about helping older adults with dementia by Anna Varela at Futurity.