Sometimes, it might feel impossible to understand how to engage with or help someone with dementia. Providing dementia patients activities is a great small way to help seniors with dementia live a more meaningful life.
Maybe you are caring for a loved one, or you work in assisted living or home care. Regardless of the forum, you may sometimes worry about running out of things to do to keep your loved one engaged. Each individual is unique in their interests and strengths or weaknesses, which does not change with old age. So it might seem challenging to think of activities for dementia patients that keep them active, peaceful, and happy.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to achieve both of these goals and more. Meaningful activities of all sorts have shown to be beneficial for social connection, personal growth, and overall mental health. The importance of activity for those with dementia cannot be understated. Let’s explore some activities for dementia patients and how to enact them.
How Important Are Activities for Dementia Patients?
As many caregivers know and experience firsthand, living with dementia can make tasks that were usually approachable very challenging. This can include social skills and communication, memory skills, emotional control, stability, or even previous hobbies and activities.
Though the urge to treat these progressive changes with medication may be present, research has provided other options. According to science, various types of stimulation can promote physical and emotional comfort and expression. This is even true for later-stage patients.
Cater to your Loved One’s Needs
Each patient, caregiver, and situation is unique. It’s important to remember that what may work for one individual may not work as well for others. That’s okay! As we discuss how to think of and introduce activities, we’ll also explore many different goals. Regardless of your caregiving situation, there are accessible options for you.
Ask yourself a few questions. How can you involve others- perhaps family, friends, or other trusted individuals? How can you customize your ideas to make them enjoyable to your loved one? The most meaningful activities are often those more tailored to the individual needs of each dementia patient.
Addressing Dementia’s Unique Challenges
An essential step of this process is to meet an individual where they are. This may involve some compromise and simplification of the activities you had planned. Some patients may struggle with hands-on, active participation (like creating things) but enjoy passive activities like listening to relaxing music. It’s also possible that activities that were previously enjoyed may become unpopular or more challenging.
Dementia is often hard on families of all kinds, especially when individuals struggle to communicate or remember important details. Providing thoughtful activities that can be done with others might help address this challenge in a meaningful way and to both patient and family.
It’s also important to note that valuable activities for those with dementia aren’t limited to hobbies or pastimes; activities can include practicing and participating in crucial life skills, or perhaps parts of a daily routine. These tasks can be just as essential as more conventional forms of activity, like physical exercise or movement.
What Are Good Activities for Dementia Patients?
To answer this question, we should also ask, “what are some activities that may help engage a person with dementia?” Regardless of whether an activity is passive or active, it should include ways to participate and engage. “Mindless” activities, or activities that don’t provide much engagement, may not help achieve the goals you may have in mind.
An important part of engagement, regardless of the activity, is encouragement and positive reinforcement/praise. Some of the actions you implement may be challenging or frustrating at times. But if they go well, they might even have the power to spark personal memories and conversations.
Categories of Activities for Dementia Patients
Below, we’ll break down some different activity categories and some of the potential benefits they may provide.
Sensory Stimulation Activities
- Sensory stimulation activities for dementia patients engage one or more of the physical senses in some way. Keeping the senses active may help enhance other functions as well. Engaging the senses can be as easy as playing music or feeling various objects and materials. These activities can provide mental stimulation and may help reduce other harmful or challenging behaviors. They may also improve functionality or make it easier for a patient to communicate about specific experiences or ideas. These activities can easily be incorporated into small or larger groups to promote social growth and improved communication.
- Exercise is vital for everyone regardless of health or age, but It’s especially true for those with dementia. The benefits of physical activity closely mimic those of sensory activities. Physical activity isn’t limited to traditional exercise, though. It may include simpler activities or those that overlap with life skills like walking, preparing food, etc.
- As mentioned above, life skills are often incorporated into activities of all kinds. Life skills specifically target the different actions a person might perform to care for themselves. This can be taking care of physical needs, or maybe cleaning up a part of the house. Life skill activities may provide comfort or a sense of familiarity for someone with dementia. It could also improve their confidence as they see they can independently perform tasks.
Mentally Stimulating Activities
- Stimulating activities specifically target the mind, and they can take a lot of different forms. They might include games for dementia patients (memory games, card games, puzzles) or other activities that engage the mind. The most obvious benefit of this type of activity is improved mental functionality. Mental functionality includes communication skills and one’s perception of their quality of life. Mental and memory stimulation may motivate individuals to engage more with others because they may find it easier to express their ideas and recall basic memories.
- Activities that promote creativity can be active or passive. These creative activities don’t have to take the form of what comes to mind immediately – artistic creation, for example. This can include singing songs, telling stories, or even watching others engage in creative activity. Activities that engage your creative side have great potential to improve mood and behaviors. It gives your loved one the chance to express themselves and their emotions positively. These activities are also usually easily adaptable for group activities.
Suggestions and Examples of Activities for Dementia Patients
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of dementia patients’ activities, it may be easier to consider what sort of unique activities you’d like to pursue. Coming up with specific and meaningful activities can also be challenging. You might feel overwhelmed or not sure where to start! Below is a list, divided by the categories we discussed above, full of examples to think about.
Sensory Stimulation Activities
- Listen to music
- Listen to a podcast, video, etc.
- Interact with a pet (touching, holding, etc.)
- Feel different materials and objects (yarn, fabrics, etc.)
- Try new foods or drinks
- Look at artwork or pictures (this may also include physical touch or experimenting with different sensations if you’d like)
- Have a favorite food or special treat (like ice cream, or maybe a nice cup of tea)
- Play with or touch moldable materials (clay, Play-Doh, kinetic sand, etc.)
- Explore and utilize different scents (could include candles, perfumes, lotions, etc.)
- Spend time outside. This can engage all of the senses at once, and you might also combine it with other activities like walking, enjoying a garden, or others
- Walking, either indoors or outdoors
- If your patient or loved one is limited by distance or physical disability, consider how to adapt to fit their needs. A simple stroll from one room to another or down a hallway can still be beneficial.
- Playing with musical instruments
- Using basic exercise equipment (stretch bands, small objects to act as a gentle weight, etc.)
- Dancing (even if it’s from a chair!)
- Playing with a pet
- Stretching, or light yoga if possible
- Meditation and physical mindfulness
- This also doubles as a potentially stimulating activity; you may encourage active thought and reflection during this time
- Sort and count objects
- You may try sorting objects into specific categories, boxes, etc. to provide some mental stimulation as well
- Cook meals or snacks
- Perform household chores
- Vacuum, cleaning or dusting furniture, doing the dishes, organizing a closet, taking care of the garden, etc.
- Folding clothes or putting objects away
- Taking a bath or a shower
- Getting dressed, or trying on different outfits
- Making or pouring a drink, perhaps coffee or tea
- Care for a pet
- Make the bed
- Visit with children, friends, or other family and loved ones
Mentally Stimulating Activities
- Do a puzzle
- Play a card game
- Read a book or story – this can even be something as simple as a picture book
- Play a board game
- Read or listen to poems
- Play a word game, like Scrabble
- Look at maps or pictures. This can also include identifying objects, states, or other recalling other factual information for something more challenging
- Write something
- Paint a picture
- Take a photo
- Sing a song, play a song on an instrument
- Doodle or draw
- Coloring books
- Sculpting or molding clay
- Knitting, crocheting, embroidery
These are only a few examples – feel free to get creative and have fun with things!
Caregiving is a challenging task, and sometimes it may be hard to understand how to help loved ones with dementia. Activities for dementia patients can provide an often much-needed outlet. It’s a great chance to engage with others and improve their quality of life. The good news is that there are lots of options that you can adapt to keep your individual needs and challenges in mind.
You don’t have to do things alone. With some simple ideas and inclusions, you can facilitate positive change.
What Is Dementia?, Alzheimer’s Association, https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia
The impact of group activities and their content on persons with dementia attending them, NCBI, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5887184/
Use of Physical and Intellectual Activities and Socialization in the Management of Cognitive Decline of Aging and in Dementia: A Review, Hindawi, https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jar/2012/384875/