According to research from Dr. Tom Kitwood, individuals living with dementia share six basic psychological needs: the need for comfort, inclusion, social attachment, personal identity, meaningful occupation and love (Kitwood 1999).
If you’re caring for a spouse or family member with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you can help improve your loved one’s quality of life by supporting these core needs. Let’s take a look at each.
- Comfort. Since a person living with dementia may have greater difficulty communicating feelings of discomfort, it’s essential to be on the lookout for any factors in the environment that may affect their level of physical comfort. This also relates to fostering a sense of emotional comfort and safety for the person.
- Inclusion. Inclusion is the need to feel completely accepted and included by others. You can support this need by making efforts to help your loved one feel welcome and connected. They might enjoy being included in familiar household activities such as folding towels or preparing the table, for example.
- Attachment. This need refers to the relationships, bonds and connections we form with other people. As social distancing measures continue, creative methods such as email, frequent phone calls and video chats can help the person with dementia feel less isolated as they experience the social interaction and companionship that are so important to all of us.
- Identity. There’s a saying that, “If you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met just ONE person with dementia.” It’s important to honor the preferences, life experiences and unique identity of the individual with dementia. Are there additional ways to incorporate their interests, hobbies and values into your daily interactions?
- Occupation. We all have the need to feel like we are involved in something personally meaningful, some endeavor where we can fully utilize our skills and abilities. Individuals living with dementia want to be involved in activities that have a purpose, are age-appropriate and take into consideration their life histories and experiences.
- Love. When all five of the previous needs are met, it contributes to the overall feeling of love. As this need is supported, the person with dementia feels unconditionally accepted and acknowledged as a valuable, unique individual.
By supporting each of these six core needs, you can help your loved one with dementia experience a greater sense of well-being and an improved quality of life.
Mike Direen is the Community Liaison for Adult Care Services, a non-profit organization that includes The Margaret T. Morris Center in Prescott and The Susan J. Rheem Adult Day Center in Prescott Valley. For more information, please visit www.AdultCareServices.org.