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By Vince Baglivo, CDP

Most of us want to feel useful. We seek to find our place in a world that’s continually changing. We want to feel valued and achieve a sense of purpose that gets us out of bed in the morning. For many of us, it’s the very reason we do what we do. It was no different for those now living with dementia; after all, they have done a lot of the same things we are now doing. Whether years of working as a School Nurse, Carpenter, Plumber, Homemaker, Business Manager, or the owner of a large company, people had a purpose, and are proud of what they have accomplished. Learning more about what a person did in their working years and how they spent their time can help us develop specific task-related interventions in memory care. By knowing someone’s past, we can help them rediscover who they once were and, in many cases, who they still see themselves to be. For example, a woman who is proud of being a homemaker and raising a large family can continue to feel that joy with the simple act of making her bed or helping with her laundry. A retired doctor will no doubt feel useful in offering his opinion in a general discussion about medicine. Asking a former electrician for his help organizing or describing different colored wiring on the back of an old radio can yield enormous therapeutic value. A retired baker is thirty-five all over again as she surgically presses a fork against the edge of a doughy pie crust before helping her daughter fill it with fresh blueberries as old artistic skills awaken. A person changes in many ways when affected by dementia, but surprisingly remains the same. As care partners and loved ones of people living with dementia, we must look for the tasks and activities that made them feel valued and relevant as members of their families and communities and help them recapture those feelings as often as we can.