A person who is withdrawn or apathetic is someone who is socially withdrawn and is experiencing a loss of interest and motivation. Behaviors that reflect being withdrawn or apathetic might include:
- sitting alone in one’s room
- avoiding contact with others
- making limited eye contact with others.
It’s important to note that these behaviors are not often considered problematic because they don’t call attention to themselves like screaming does. They can, however, lead to rapid loss of cognitive and physical function.
How to approach the person who is withdrawn or apathetic:
- Try to engage the person in creative activities.
- Give instructions slowly and break tasks down into manageable portions for the person.
- Remain positive and calm with the person.
- Encourage the person to do what they can for themselves and provide praise often.
- Avoid excess stimulation such as large crowds or loud noises.
Things to try:
- Sensory stimulation may be helpful. Some ways to do this might include playing music, looking through visually stimulating thing such as pictures from old calendars or holiday cards, and touching or holding a stuffed animal.
- Involving the person in cooking or baking activities can help stimulate the sense of smell and be a good time to talk and reminisce with the person as their memory allows.
- Consider the persons’ preferences. For example, if the person is fond of animals, bring in a therapy dog as a way to spark interest and movement (reaching, petting).
- A visit from young children can be a wonderful, heartwarming way to engage a withdrawn older adult.
- For many, a short walk or simply sitting outdoors for a short period of time can offer valuable sensory stimulation.
- Try to engage the person in a 1:1 or small group social activity. Try to individualize social contact, which can include casual conversations or “small talk.” Adapt the conversation based on how advanced the person’s dementia is. For someone with very advance dementia try to focus mostly on questions involving “here and now” discussion such as comments about music playing, food being served or the weather. For an individual with mild to moderate dementia, small talk can be facilitated by asking the person simple questions, such as: “did you ever play football in school?” or “have you always lived in Wisconsin?”
- Talk to family members to learn more about the person’s history and use this information to plan activities. For example, a painter could help make posters for events; a policeman could “walk the beat”; a homemaker could help knead dough, dust or sweep the floors.
- Another simple strategy for facilitating social contact is to share information about your life or plans for the day and ask the person with dementia for their input about things you share using straightforward questions.