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Success: Why it is so important for
Success is a basic human need. We all want to be good at things and to feel like we do
certain things especially well.
Unfortunately, too many people think of Alzheimer’s disease in terms of failure rather
than success. Caregivers, and especially patients themselves, are constantly faced
with a long (and ever-growing) list of things that just don’t come as easily as they used
to. But keeping track of losses is a waste of time and energy—both of which should be
spent instead on what the person with this disease still ¬can do. Every day, caregivers
should look for ways to let residents succeed and make the most of whatever skills
The first step, then, is to ask what skills the person still has. What can he or she do
well? This is a very personal process. The list of skills will be different for every person
with dementia, and it will change for each person as the disease progresses. But
chances are, when you begin to think about it, you’ll be able to come up with a lot of
things each resident can still do. And when you know what these things are, you can
find ways for residents to do them.
Example: You know that Meredith can still open dresser drawers and rearrange their
contents, because she does this all the time (something you may, in fact, see as a
problem behavior). So give her a drawer full of socks and ask if she can help you match
them with their partners.
The above example ties into another important step in helping residents feel
successful: let them do something they will perceive as useful. Often, it’s not enough for
the resident to be able to do a task. The task must also be something that matters,
something that is helpful, something that others will notice and appreciate.
This is why chores are often great activities for residents. Just asking Meredith to match
socks by color may not be enough, in itself, for her to feel successful. However, asking
her to match socks for other residents (or towels for the housekeeping staff, or napkins
for the kitchen) will give her a good reason to do it, and a much stronger sense of
accomplishment once the task is done.
Playing on a person’s past skills, strengths, and interests will give you other ideas for
activities that give a sense of success. If you have a lifelong baseball fan, for instance,
try giving him a pile of baseball cards and having him sort the players by team. If you
have a resident who loves old movies, try having her sort DVD cases into piles based
on the actors who starred in them.
Praise, of course, is an important part of making residents feel successful, so be sure
to praise all residents’ accomplishments and efforts, even when they don’t do things
perfectly. Keep in mind, though, that many residents are still aware when they are not
doing things right—sometimes painfully aware. So it’s important not to lie to them or
heap praise on them for doing things they might think are (or should be) simple. To
make a big deal about buttoning a sweater, for example, might come across as
belittling to the person. You can still provide praise, but try to phrase it in a way that won’
t cause embarrassment: “Oh! I see you already put on your shoes. That’s great! Now
we’re ready to head to the lounge.”
When you have an idea for an activity you think a resident might be able to do
successfully, start with a simple version. You can always move from easy to more
complex if the resident can handle it. But if you make the activity too difficult for the
resident right at first, he or she may resist doing it altogether.
Finally, make sure you define what you mean by “success.” It doesn’t matter at all
whether the resident is actually doing something “right.” Perfection is not the goal. All
that does matter is that residents enjoy themselves and feel proud of what they have
Caregivers who can give residents that are sharing a tremendous gift.
Questions for Thought:
1. What does it mean for residents to be “successful” at something? Why doesn’t it
matter whether they are actually doing something “right”?
2. What are some activities you can think of that could help give residents a sense of