Can Persons with Dementia be engaged with stimuli?

Jiska Cohen-Mansfield, Marcia S. Marx, Maha Dakheel-Ali, Natalie G. Regier, Khin Thein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: To determine which stimuli are 1) most engaging 2) most often refused by nursing home residents with dementia, and 3) most appropriate for persons who are more difficult to engage with stimuli. METHODS: Participants were 193 residents of seven Maryland nursing homes. All participants had a diagnosis of dementia. Stimulus engagement was assessed by the Observational Measure of Engagement. RESULTS: The most engaging stimuli were one-on-one socializing with a research assistant, a real baby, personalized stimuli based on the person's self-identity, a lifelike doll, a respite video, and envelopes to stamp. Refusal of stimuli was higher among those with higher levels of cognitive function and related to the stimulus'social appropriateness. Women showed more attention and had more positive attitudes for live social stimuli, simulated social stimuli, and artistic tasks than did men. Persons with comparatively higher levels of cognitive functioning were more likely to be engaged in manipulative and work tasks, whereas those with low levels of cognitive functioning spent relatively more time responding to social stimuli. The most effective stimuli did not differ for those most likely to be engaged and those least likely to be engaged. CONCLUSION: Nursing homes should consider both having engagement stimuli readily available to residents with dementia, and implementing a socialization schedule so that residents receive one-on-one interaction. Understanding the relationship among type of stimulus, cognitive function, and acceptance, attention, and attitude toward the stimuli can enable caregivers to maximize the desired benefit for persons with dementia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-362
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Dementia
  • Engagement
  • Nursing home residents
  • Stimuli

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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