The Benefits of a Failure-Free Approach to Memory Care

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Imagine if you had to do something you struggle with over and over and over again. It wouldn’t be very fun, would it? After a while, you’d get frustrated, your confidence would dwindle, and you might even stop trying.

It’s the same for people with dementia, says Kimberly Stout, the Arbors at Dracut’s Reflections Memory Program Director. “When the residents start to realize they are becoming more forgetful or tasks they used to do really well are getting to be more challenging, that causes them to lose confidence and not want to participate.”

But staying active and engaged is critical to quality of life. Activities facilitate socialization, an important aspect of mental health. They can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. They engage the brain and improve cognitive functioning for a time.

That’s why the care partners at Arbors at Dracut employ a failure-free approach to memory care.

What Is a Failure-free Approach to Memory Care?

A failure-free approach to memory care emphasizes assets rather than deficits. When it comes to activities, they are adapted to suit the needs and capacity of the person with memory loss and are to be used in a way that will enable the person to succeed.

“When we play the game Trouble, a resident might move the piece backward instead of forward, and we’re not going to correct it.” Stout says. “They’re making an effort and as long as they’re engaged, to us, that’s a success.”

Dementia typically progresses slowly in three general stages — mild (early stage), moderate (middle stage), and severe (late stage). Because it affects people in different ways, each person will experience symptoms differently.

Using a failure-free approach to memory care allows Stout and her team to provide moment-to-moment satisfaction and raise self-esteem. Failure-free activities can be an encouragement to someone with dementia by giving them something to do by which they can experience success, purpose, and enjoyment.

Curbing Sundowning Behaviors

Not only do these activities build residents’ confidence and give them a sense of purpose, but they also curb sundowning behaviors, such as exit-seeking and anxiety.

“Failure-free programming is the key to curbing those types of behaviors,” Stout says. “If you go to a memory care community that doesn’t use the failure-free approach, you’ll probably see more sleeping residents, wandering residents, residents trying to go home. You won’t have an engaged group.”

What Are Some Failure-free Activities for People with Dementia? 

Not every memory care facility is able to adapt its programming to reflect the principles of a failure-free approach because it takes quite a bit of work.

 “It really does take you knowing your group and what their likes and dislikes and preferences and backgrounds are in order to approach them individually,” Stout says.

Failure-free activities are individualized according to the person’s background, work history, leisure interests, social preferences, and personal care habits, and routines. Stout and her team must keep the resident’s skills and abilities in mind, pay special attention to what the person enjoys, be aware of physical limitations, focus on enjoyment and not achievement, relate to their past work life, look for favorite activities, and consider time of day.

“It’s all about the approach,” Stout says.

For example, during a game of Yahtzee, a staff member sits with the residents and plays with them. They’ll guide the residents through the game, letting them look at the dice and asking questions like, “Do we have two of the same dice?” and “How do we get a straight?”

It doesn’t really matter how well the residents do or if anyone rolls a Yahtzee. Instead, what matters is that the residents are spending time together and that they feel as if they have done something meaningful.

Other activities that work well with a failure-free approach include sing-alongs, active games, physical exercise, listening to music, games, and daily tasks and chores.

“They can’t remember what they ate for breakfast, but they will definitely remember how you made them feel,” Stout says.

And that’s the point of a failure-free approach to memory care. By offering simple activities —  guided by a team of compassionate caregivers who are alert to the preserved abilities of the resident and help develop and use the skills they still have still has — the Arbors at Dracut team allow the residents to perform at their fullest potential, reinforce their self-esteem, and increase their quality of life.

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