Defining Terms

This module is the culmination of all of your work so far – understanding what happens in your program when you have activated the knowledge you have gathered into an experience that fully supports each person’s abilities and adapts to the changes they may be experiencing because of their dementia. We will explore the two key measures – engagement and wellbeing – in greater depth in the forthcoming lessons, but to begin we must understand the terms.

Engagement essentially, is to capture the attention or interest of a participant. It is about connections with the social and physical environment, and can include active participation in an activity. In this context, we must always look for engagement through observable actions – things that you can actually see a participant doing (or not doing), rather than impressions about what we may think participants feel.

Artful Moments - A participant couple smiles while sharing a story with the facilitator.
A participant couple smiles while sharing a story with the facilitator.

When working with people living with dementia, remember that in our person-centred approach we aim to provide experiences for participants that have relevance and importance to them. Experiences are not about ‘filling time’ or busy-work. Meaningful engagement comes from connecting with the participants as equals, and allowing them to contribute, be seen and heard for who they are. This idea may be less measurable than the simple definition above, but when we discuss the ‘signs’ of engagement, it will help us to strive for and value indications that support meaningful engagement more. To ensure meaningful engagement, we must:

  • Encourage participants to speak for themselves
  • Listen actively and use strategies to support understanding and expression
  • Create an environment that encourages sharing without fear of being judged or dismissed
  • Being able to influence what happens and make decisions that matter, like what ideas are discussed during a conversation, or the way they interpret a hands-on activity
  • Recognize and appreciate participants’ skills and abilities

Wellbeing describes a positive state that can include things like health, happiness or satisfaction, connection, meaningful engagement and many more ideas. Wellbeing is not based on a single concept, and it is not a fixed or permanent state. It is about achieving balance in many dimensions at once, and it changes from one moment to the next, based on internal or external influences. For this reason we talk about enhancing or improving wellbeing – to affect a positive shift in a person’s state rather than just achieve wellbeing as an end. Like engagement, for us to be able to identify and measure improved wellbeing, we must clearly define the dimensions that we use to define it.