My mom has very mild dementia that mainly cause behavioral issues. She wants to be out in the world doing normal adult things but she simply can't due to her physical handicap.

What can she do in a nursing home that will make her feel useful? She loves to chit chat but not with the "brain dead" residents she constantly complains about...

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The few nursing homes I had loved ones in all had activities such as bingo, movie nights, group games of all sorts and outside groups coming in to sing, etc. The nursing home my MIL was recently in for rehab let her fold socks.

Would she she like coloring books? They have them for adults now. Perhaps she could color pictures for residents that have no visitors.
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Many questions: How long has she been there? Does this facility have an activity director who plans daily and weekly activities? Do they print out a list so that you can be aware of them and encourage your mother to participate? Are the other residents all really “brain dead” or is it just her perception? In my parents’ nursing home there are several who are incapable of speech, but many more who have physical disabilities but their cognitive ability is still there. See if you can introduce her to some of these residents. I notice some of the more capable residents seem to hang out with each other and always eat together.

Does the facility have a social worker you could talk to about your concerns? Does your mother knit or crochet? Is she able or willing to learn? I recently was asked to teach a group of interested residents to crochet. Your mother could make simple scarves or beanies that you could take to hospitals or women’s shelters. There are two residents there who make beaded bracelets and sell them at the “Auction” they have once a month.

I went through this with my father recently. Even though my parents’ facility has numerous daily activities and even takes them out twice monthly on excursions, he complained of being bored and useless last week. I talked to the activities director and learned that they have a small library and DVD collection. He is barely able to push himself down the hall, but slowly he can make it in order to go to the lending library to borrow a DVD (pushing himself gives him a sense of accomplishment). He can still read and comprehend though I suspect he has to read the same page over and over, but he said he didn’t have any good books. I took him down to the business office and he withdrew some money from his account (in our state each resident gets to keep a small portion of their social security whether they are private pay or Medicaid), and we ordered some large print Zane Grey westerns to be delivered to the nursing home. I could have bought these for him with my money, but I think he enjoyed the empowerment of using his own money. They were delivered in two days and I had the enjoyment of seeing him happily reading the next time I visited.

In looking back over what I have written, I believe my parents’ world enlarged instead of narrowing when they entered the nursing home. Yes, they are limited physically and cognitively from doing the work that normally takes up an adult’s time, but most facilities look for ways to engage their residents. My family did not always do this when we were in charge of taking care of them. We were too busy balancing caregiving and our own lives. By no means, is this a blanket endorsement of everything that goes on in nursing homes, but I have been made aware, at least in their facility, of how much attention is given to keeping them engaged with the world.
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The NH should be providing some type of activity.
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