Is it appropriate to give an adult, living with dementia, a child's toy to play with?
My opinion is a resounding "yes". Should you also do this with care, sensitivity, forethought and in a person centred way? Of course. This is a sensitive subject for many people and one which I think I wil be returning to more than once
I first came across the concept of 'stage not age appropriate' from Teepa Snow, an American Dementia Care expert who has a refreshing approach to working and living with people who have dementia. There are also a heap of videos you can find on Youtube where she talks about her approach.
The stages of dementia are loosly definable but are different in everyone and can involve all parts of the body and personallity. I really believe that pitching daily activity at the individual's own personal level, what they can do, what they are finding pleasurable is the route to the most fun and fullfilling experiences. Think about what stage that person is at, and try not to worry so much about their age.
How does this work in practice?
Let's take jigsaw puzzles as an example. An individual with dementia may have once loved to do jigsaws; 1000 piece, back to front and upside down jigsaws. As their concentration skills, patience, memory and maybe even fine motor skills diminish these complex and demanding jigsaws may become unachieveable. So do you therefore take 'jigsaws' off the to-do list? Instead why not try easier puzzles. There are jigsaws available specifically designed for people with dementia, like this one (they will even personalise a jigsaw with your own photo!). I have used these particular jigsaws at work and the advantage of them is that the jigsaw is inset within a border of the photo so that you have clues for where to start straight away making it easier and less intimidating.
So far I don't think this is too controversial. Buying products aimed at the 'dementia market' makes them acceptable to most people.
If this size of jigsaw becomes too hard you can move on again. I have successfully used toddlers peg puzzles, like the one you see below with great results. I would usually begin by asking the person if they like the puzzle, the colours etc. Invariably I would get a reply about how they used to give the children one like it, or something similar. I might ask if they'd like to have a go, or "I wonder if we could do it?" This is usally enough to get us going. Sometimes you do get a negative reaction. One gentleman said rather gruffly "that's a children's toy". His tone of voice left me in no doubt that he didn't approve. Don't forget though .... it doesn't mean never. You can always try again another day.
Lego or the toddler version Duplo, Stickle bricks, Sewing cards, wooden sorting boxes, train set, Scalextric,
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw
If you are asking why I think this might be a sensitive subject then you are already with me on the stage / age appropriate debate. Many people however do find the idea of giving their Grandpa or wife a children's toy. It is insulting, inappropriate. Have you got anything to lose by giving it a go? If it feels uncomfortable try it when you are on your own together, guage their reaction. Try different things.