Why Having a Sense of Purpose Matters for Those with Dementia

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Why Having a Sense of Purpose Matters for Those with Dementia

Living with dementia can be a challenging journey, not only for the person directly affected but also for their loved ones. As caregivers, family members, or friends, we often grapple with ways to enhance the quality of life for someone facing cognitive decline. One powerful approach that stands out is giving a person with dementia a sense of purpose.

The Weight of Purpose

Breaking the Burden Barrier

When someone is diagnosed with dementia, they may feel like a burden to their loved ones. Acknowledging their need for purpose helps to shift this perspective. By assigning tasks or responsibilities, we communicate that their presence and contributions are valued. This approach not only lifts the burden off their shoulders but also transforms their role within the family or caregiving environment.

A Homecoming Yearning

People with dementia often express a desire to “go home,” even when they are in familiar surroundings. In my personal experience with my mother, I’ve found that expressing a
need for her presence distracts her from focusing on going home. By saying, “I need you here to take care of the children,” I provided a sense of belonging, assuring her that she is
an essential part of the household.

The Essence of Belonging

Countering Isolation

Dementia can lead to social withdrawal and isolation. Establishing a sense of purpose involves integrating the person into social activities or daily routines. This not only combats loneliness but also nurtures a feeling of belonging within a community or family unit.

Empowering Through Contribution

Purpose often arises from contributing to others. Even simple tasks can provide a sense of accomplishment. For instance, involving a person with dementia in household chores or decision-making processes fosters empowerment, reinforcing their role and importance in the family dynamic.

The Science Behind Purpose

Cognitive Stimulation and Delayed Decline

Research suggests that engaging in purposeful activities can positively impact cognitive function. Mental stimulation, whether through hobbies, social interactions, or meaningful tasks, has been linked to a slower rate of cognitive decline. By providing purpose, we actively contribute to maintaining cognitive abilities for a longer duration.

Emotional Well-being and Sense of Identity

Beyond cognitive benefits, fostering purpose contributes to emotional well-being. Maintaining a sense of identity and self-worth becomes increasingly challenging with dementia. Purposeful activities help preserve and enhance a person’s identity, instilling a positive emotional framework.

Real-Life Example

As dementia cast its shadow, Lolita noticed her mother’s recurring desire to “go home.” In the beginning, her mother simply wanted to return to a place that felt known, her home. However, Lolita discovered that by tapping into her mother’s love for nurturing her grandchildren, she could provide a unique source of comfort. Lolita began to gently reassure her, “Mom, I need you here to watch the children.” These simple words became a lifeline, an anchor in the storm of confusion. Through them, Lolita granted her mother a profound sense of purpose, transforming the distressing desire to go home into a meaningful role as the guardian of cherished grandchildren. In weaving purpose into the fabric of their daily lives, Lolita preserved her mother’s dignity and the significance of her presence in the family.


In the intricate tapestry of dementia care, purpose emerges as a beacon of hope and vitality. It’s not merely about assigning tasks; it’s about affirming the individual’s worth. This counteracts isolation often accompanied by dementia, contributing to their cognitive and emotional well-being. By recognizing and addressing the innate need for purpose, we can transform the dementia journey from mere survival to a life infused with meaning and connection. Providing purpose gives those with dementia a meaningful direction, creating a profound impact on the quality of their lives and the lives of those who care for them.

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