Finding an activity with dementia patients is not as difficult as many caregivers may think. Doing the laundry is one of those ADLs (activities of daily living) that few people especially enjoy. But those with dementia might find it a pleasurable diversion. As with all ADLs, you will want your family member to retain independence in this skill as long as possible. The following ideas or guidelines will help you do this.
Keep it simple
Don’t rearrange items in the utility or laundry room unnecessarily. Those with dementia need routine and organization. Having laundry items (detergent, hampers, measuring cups, space for folding clothes, etc.) in a familiar and routine place will help your family stay independent for some time. These items will need to be locked up as the disease progresses, as some people with dementia may eat or drink these items.
More on finding an activity with dementia patients…
Minimize hazardous substances
The laundry room area in many homes resembles a mini-chemical plant. Bleach, insecticides, drain cleaners, detergents, toilet bowl cleaners, and so on are a part of the standard household. And not just the laundry area. Other rooms, especially bathrooms and kitchens, might be storage for insect bait traps, paints and solvents, hard water stain and rust remover products, scouring agents, and a whole host of products whose ingredients most of us cannot pronounce.
Go through your home (or where your family member lives) and literally “clean” house. Remove all items that are not necessary for the laundry, proper maintenance of the home, or other ADLs. Since most of us don’t throw away cleaning agents and other chemicals, it’s not uncommon to find products, even old, expired medications, that are many years old.
- Constitutes a safety hazard
- Is required for the maintenance of the house or laundry
- The dementia patient should not have access to (with or without supervision)
…should be kept under lock and key, or otherwise inaccessible except to the responsible party.
An activity with dementia means providing safety…
Label products as necessary
Assuming that your family member is still capable of independence in the laundry ADLs, place labels on products that they will have access to. This will serve as a guide as to which products they can use. It is NOT safe to put chemicals in generic containers. Leave chemical products in their original containers.
Throw away outdated chemicals
Any product past the expiration date should be discarded as instructed on the label. This especially includes old medications, which are often kept in laundry areas. When replacing chemical products, get only what you need and resist the urge to “stock up.”
Keep emergency numbers near the phone
Poison control phone numbers, physician office number, fire and police department numbers – keep all these in a handy, readily accessible place. Like insurance, we don’t ever want to have to use it, but it’s good to have it if you need it.
Keep the clothes dryer lint catcher clean
All dryers have a lint strain, or catcher. This should be cleaned after every chothes drying cycle. Many people don’t keep this part clean. Build-up of lint in the catcher is one of the leading causes of dryer fires. Don’t expect your loved one to do this without assistance. More on fire saftey here
Operational smoke and heat detectors
Place smoke and heat detectors in the laundry area. Test them (and change batteries routinely, if appropriate) at intervals to assure good working order.
More on finding an activity with dementia patients…
Upgrade your appliances
Modern irons come with a host of safety features. Strain traps for sinks, lockable cabinets, and appliance locks are also available, should you need to use some of these. There are even washer/dryer combination units, to minimize confusion about which machine to put clothes in and to save space.
Encourage independence and assist only as necessary
When dementia progresses to the point that this ADL requires assistance, offer to do the laundry as needed. But enlist your family member help for as long as they are able to participate, no matter how little they can do.
Make an activity out of doing the laundry
Most of the ADLs can be made fun if we get a little creative. If you hang your clothes outside, get your family member outside with you and let them help you hang your clothes. And let them help get the clothes in after they’ve dried. Once the clothes have dried, bring the laundry in and let your family member help you fold and put them away. Your emphasis is not on how fast or how perfect they can fold an article of clothing, but that they simply are able to do it. This improves self esteem and continues to allow your family member to be an active member of the family.
Guide your family member on what to fold and show them how to do it, if they have forgotten. Basic items, such as washcloths and towels, are the easiest to fold. Sheets can be frustrating, especially if expected to fold it alone. Placing clothes on hangers and hanging them up is also a good activity. Many of my past patients felt comfort in folding simple things or even matching socks. There has been more than one time, I unfolded what they folded, to allow the dementia patient to continue to be able to do an activity. Of course, you do not allow them to see you unfold their work, just act as if it is another load to be folded.
Remember that people with dementia respond better to emotion than to logic or reason. Make ADLs, laundry included, a fun time, not something to be dreaded or fought over. If you do these things, you’ll find that even a basic chore like doing the laundry can be a little less tedious and a bit more enjoyable.These types of activities can also make the dementia patient active and busy and avoid negative behaviors from occurring.
More on various ADL’s and tips for activities here