Since the COVID pandemic began, lockdowns, social distancing and intermittent quarantining has made it hard for families and communities to connect. And those isolating issues are compounded for people with dementia and their caregivers.
Due to heightened medical concerns, social interactions and outings may be curtailed or canceled, leaving the caregiver and cognitively impaired individual more time “alone” together.
Filling the endless hours with meaningful, enriching activities can be a challenge both for family and professional caregivers. That’s why it’s not surprising one of the frequent questions caregivers ask geriatric specialists and neurologists is: What can we do all day?
Now, one organization hopes to provide an answer—one that arrives at your door in a brightly colored box.
In July 2022, Prairie Elder Care, a Kansas-based assisted living and dementia-care organization, launched Connectivities, a monthly subscription service for caregivers of people with dementia.
“Many times, for caretakers, the burden of planning overshadows their ability to truly engage,” said Connectivities co-founder Michala Gibson, RN. “Connectivities delivers a solution that’s simple, purposeful and personal right to caretakers’ front doorsteps.”
Each box includes eight or more seasonal activities, puzzles, games, etc., that have been tested by individuals with dementia in assisted living. While they may look simple, the materials in the box are finely curated to engage individuals with differing cognitive and physical abilities.
"While they may look simple, the materials in the box are finely curated to engage individuals with differing cognitive and physical abilities."
“We spend a lot of time testing different shapes and sizes of the same product to figure out what’s actually going to work best for that particular activity,” said Mandy Shoemaker, a former elementary school principal and the other Connectivities co-founder.
To encourage multi-generational participation, Connectivities include a step-by-step written guide with photo illustrations, so many activities can be led or completed with the assistance of elementary-aged children and teenagers.
In addition, the instructions include therapy goals and modifications to adapt the activity to the appropriate level of difficulty.
“In dementia care,” Shoemaker said, “we talk a lot about how the memory of an activity or interaction may quickly fade, but the feelings they create last.”
Each box also comes with a link to a website that features instructional videos as well as additional music therapy and exercise activities and support links to a caregiver community.
As the owners of the Prairie Elder Care and Prairie Farmstead group homes in Kansas, Gibson and Shoemaker’s experiences led them to develop a philosophy of care that permeates the contents of every box.
“Connectivities really came from our engagement model, which is based on community, connection and control,” Gibson said. “People who are living with dementia need to have a feeling of control to be able to connect with people and form a community. “
During her 20 years in dementia care, Gibson has found maintaining that sense of control depends on caregivers being able to understand, anticipate and satisfy needs before the onset of frustration, confusion and anger.
“When you have a group of people who all feel in control, they can connect with the people around them and the environment, like animals and gardens,” Gibson explains. “And the more connections we have, the more a sense of community that we have or sense of belonging.”
More than just an arts-and-crafts kit or busy work, Connectivities boxes seek to strengthen the bonds between the caregivers, family members, friends and the person with dementia.
"More than just an arts-and-crafts kit or busy work, Connectivities boxes seek to strengthen the bonds between the caregivers, family members, friends and the person with dementia."
The 30-minute activities are designed to prompt a sharing of memories and experiences as well as foster connections to family, nature, senses, history, our past, science, music, our bodies, food, creativity, etc.
The activities also help retain important life skills and intellectual abilities. For example, pouring beads and confetti into a tube to make Independence Day baton demands concentration and problem-solving skills. During testing, Gibson noticed one couple in particular, who became very focused and worked together to complete the tasks.
“The activities give them that sense of purpose and utilizes the skills that they have—rather than highlight or test the things that they no longer have,” she said.
"The activities give them that sense of purpose and utilizes the skills that they have—rather than highlight or test the things that they no longer have."
One subscriber recently described how the activities enhanced the family’s visit with her 99-year-old great grandmother.
“Nothing seemed to motivate or ground her to the present moment,” the subscriber wrote. “We showed her the Connectivities box and started the beach activity with sand and seashells. It all changed as we visited [through the sharing of memories] the beaches of California (her home for 67 years before moving to Kansas) together.”
The activities can also help some family members make a meaningful transition.
“Before dementia, maybe the person wouldn’t have enjoyed these activities,” Shoemaker said. “But things are a little different now, and sometimes family members have to let go of who and what used to be and accept the individuals for who they are now.”
Although they own and are expanding their group homes, the two women see a lot of potential for the program.
“Our hope for Connectivities,” Gibson explained, “is it helps people stay at home longer, have better quality of life and answers that question: What do I do to engage people with dementia?”
A single Connectivities box including shipping costs $69. The subscription price is $62.99 including shipping, and group boxes are available from $199.99 for six people to $499.99 for 24 people.
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