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Activities vs. Engagement

By: Dr. Cate McCarty

When shopping for memory care not all activities are the same.  The term activities is a general category that has been used in nursing homes and assisted livings to describe leisure opportunities for the resident.  In assisted living these activities are generic, catering to the largest group of resident interests.  In memory care, activities should be dementia-focused, preference-driven and memory engaging. 

Why does it matter?  Research continues to support that quality memory engagement diminishes negative behaviors and supports maintenance of the individual’s cognitive status.  This is one reason that memory care is the best care for individuals with memory impairment. 

What is a dementia-focused activity?  It is an activity that have been adapted to work with cognitive changes.  This requires dementia-trained staff who know and apply specific care adaptations designed for all stages of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.  The dementia-focused calendar will be rich with short and varied activities to match both the attention span of the residents’ cognitive stage, and to create a rhythm compatible with dementia. 

Preference-driven activities would take into account the residents’ personal preferences and lifelong hobbies. This would be obvious to a shopper by the diversity of opportunities that span a day.  The residents’ personal rhythm would be apparent by the range of hours activities are offered.

Arden Courts offers dementia-focused, preference-driven engagement.  At Arden Courts the program reflects the preferences of the community residents, the adaptation to their cognition, and an optimized daily rhythm. Engagement Therapy Treatment™ is an Arden Courts’ program focused on optimizing cognitive strength while matching personal preference in a small directed group setting.  Arden Courts’ Namaste program captures the sensory memory of individuals who are in later stages of dementia in a focused regularly scheduled group.  

Regardless of age, individuals with memory loss have the need for adapted programming that takes into account their interests, their attention span, and their comfort with small or large groups, and their cognitive strengths.  Families witness their loved ones engaging in both large and small groups, walking peacefully in the specially designed outdoors, and enjoying a quality of life they never knew imagined.

For a more extensive list of memory care features to compare while shopping, contact a Arden Courts near you.


By-line:  Cate McCarty, PhD, ADC has been collaborating with Arden Courts in a variety of roles since the late 90’s.  Her background in nursing, activities and admissions has given her a passionate commitment to quality of life for the individual and family with dementia.


Kverno, K. S., Black, B. S., Nolan, M. T., & Rabins, P. V. (2009).  Research on treating neuropsychiatric symptoms of advanced dementia with non-pharmacological strategies, 1996-2008; A systematic literature review, International Psychogeriatrics, 21(5):  825-843.

Livingston, G., Kelly, L., Lewis-Holmes, E., Baio, G., Morris, S., et al. (2014). Psychosocial interventions for reducing antipsychotic medication in care home residents, Health Technology Assessment, 18(30):1-226.

Richter, T., Meyer, G., Mohler, R., & Kopke, S. (2012).  A systematic review of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of sensory, psychological and behavioral interventions for managing agitation in older adults with dementia, Cochrane Database Systematic Review, 12:12.


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