According to the Alzheimer’s Society, dementia not only steals memories and fosters depression and anxiety; it also robs individuals of their sense of purpose in life.

Depression occurs in 20% to 40% of cases while anxiety occurs in 5% to 20% of cases of people living with dementia.

Depression and anxiety are linked to increased mortality, reduced quality of life, as well as loss of meaning and purpose in life. 

Research shows that having a strong sense of purpose correlates with better physical health.

Furthermore, it is shown to slow cognitive decline.

Living with meaning and purpose means to feel that one’s life is significant and worthwhile.

What are the signs that someone is not living with meaning and purpose?

  • They may feel bored
  • They may become withdrawn or difficult to engage with
  • They may feel or exhibit signs of helplessness
  • They may begin to lose their identity as well as the traits that make them unique

How does this differ from someone who feels that their life is meaningful?

  • People will make an effort to participate in tasks and activities
  • They appear happy as well as comfortable to get involved
  • They attempt to carry out tasks to the best of their ability

Creating Life Stories

Help people to feel connected to who they are. 

Working on life story projects can help people to hold onto their memories while providing comfort and reassurance.

These stories also help caregivers to really understand the individual and furthermore understand the behaviour of the person they are looking after.

A practical example from my own nursing career was a gentleman who I used to care for who always used to get up at around 4 am in the morning.

We had worked with his family to create a life story, therefore we understood that he always got up at 4 am because he used to be a milkman.

He had been getting out of bed for work at that time for all of his working life.

This was a lifelong habit that he was unable to break.

When he was up early in the morning we were able to spend this quiet time of day chatting with him about his working life over a cup of tea.

Meaning and Purpose through Life Stories

How to ensure that a person’s daily life is purposeful

Daily activities should be purposeful and not just a diversion.

Activities should focus on people’s existing strengths as well as use familiar skills to increase confidence.

Activities fall under many categories, some examples are as follows:

Domestic – Baking, Preparing a meal, Washing dishes, Folding washing, Dusting, Clearing the table, Making a drink

Outdoor – Walking, Gardening, Caring for pets

Social – Shopping, Taking part in hobbies, Going out for meals, Exercise

Creative – Crafts, Knitting, Drawing, Painting, Writing, Listening to music, Reading

Work Life – Anything related to a person’s previous working life

Personal – Reminiscence,  Photos, Videos, Memory boxes. Personal treats such as having a haircut or a manicure

Meaning and Purpose

Read more Nursing Notes by Claire Bailey.