Top tips for planning workshops for people living with Dementia?

From my experience of planning creative dance workshops in care home, hospital and Dementia café settings here are my top tips for planning activities to engage people living with Dementia.

Start and end ques– Have a distinctive opening and closing activity. This will help engage the participants initially as they will be aware something is happening and then allow the participants to understand that the activity has finished. If working with the same group make the start and end of the session a ritual as this will encourage them to feel safe in the space.

Validation – When planning your session make sure you include time at the end of the session to go round to talk to each participant. You might comment on how their contribution to the session was really appreciated or how it really made the other residents smile. Even if a participant hasn’t joined in with your activity or refused to join in, let them know it was good to see them. Make everyone in your session feel important.  

Consider your activity space – Most often you will be delivering your session in someone’s home. Never just turn the TV off without asking first. Make sure that you have informed the staff team that the TV will need to be turned off whilst you are working so that they can make other arrangements for people who do not wish to participant in the workshop. If you move furniture to change the space always move it back after your session.

Communication – When planning your session make sure you communicate with the organisation or your staff team, what will be happening during the session. Whether it is ok to bring the tea trolley round. If you are an external organisation going to deliver a workshop in setting this is so important. Advanced planning can mean that the setting can consider rejigging the time of the tea trolley so that you are not interrupted. In my experience as soon as the wheels of the tea trolley can be heard, you are competing for participants attention and who can really compete with tea and cake!   

Evoke the senses – When planning your session think about what senses you can evoke. Use different visuals, pictures or props so there is something different and exciting to look at. What smells might bring back a memory, you might think about how you change the smell of the room so that when participants enter, they recognise a different smell. Consider your playlist if using music, research your audience before the workshop, not everyone will be a Vera Lynn fan, in fact people’s music choices may surprise you.  What about taste and touch, could they be significant to your audience?

Reflect and revise – You can run the same session for two different groups and have two completely different outcomes. After your session take time to think about what worked and why. It will help you with your future workshop planning and make you more considerate of needs of participants and organisations. Your time reflecting will improve your ability to think quickly and change your plan quickly if needed in future sessions.  

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