Dementia Activity Ideas
Keeping active - be it through physical, mental, creative or social activities - is so important, especially for those living with Dementia. The brain is stimulated and confidence is increased, promoting an overall mental wellbeing. People with Dementia often struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation, lethargy and sometimes depression. This can lead to them socially withdrawing, wandering around and becoming agitated. One of the main causes for these feelings is quite simply: boredom.
Due to their cognitive decline, the hobbies and activities that your loved one used to take part in might not be possible any more, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are so many activity options available that will not only bring joy and purpose to your loved ones life, but they will help you to reconnect and enhance your relationship.
The key to finding stimulating activities are ones that will challenge them enough to be engaging, but not so challenging that they become frustrated. Keep in mind that their abilities may fluctuate on a daily basis, and today they might be capable of what might not have been possible yesterday. It is usually best to do activities which don’t involve learning new skills - try to stick to what they already know.
What Activities Are Best for Someone With Dementia?
Activities which make the person happy are always the best choice, so if you know of their life long interests then pursue these activities - for example, they might have always loved golf, so you could go to a driving range together.
The best Dementia activity ideas are those which keep them fit and healthy and their mind active. Group exercise classes are a great option; some ideas to consider:
- Tai Chi, yoga, or a low impact dance class are all great relaxing options
- Joining a local walking group. Try to find one that suits your capabilities and interests - hiking up a mountain is probably not going to be the best idea, whereas weekly walks around the local park would be more suitable.
- Enquire at your local gyms to see if they offer dementia friendly swimming sessions
- Try chair exercises that suit your loved ones capabilities - there are many different exercise tutorial videos available on Youtube
- Mindfulness and meditation activities can be extremely beneficial for a persons mood and wellbeing
- Play ball/catch games together - incorporate a question with each time you throw/kick the ball, so they are both physically and mentally stimulated
- Following on from the previous point, a balloon can be used instead of a ball, and a ‘pool noodle’ can be used to hit the balloon to each other
- If you are lucky enough to live near a beach, take a stroll along the shore and collect shells
Keep in mind that as Dementia progresses, people find it more difficult to learn new skills/activities. So choosing an activity that they are already familiar with, or that requires minimal skill/learning is best.
For activities undertaken outdoors, make sure the person has some sort of identification in their pocket in case they get lost, and ideally some sort of tracking device in case they wander off and get lost.
Is It Better To Do Dementia Activities Together or Alone?
In general, it is better to do activities together or in a group setting. People with Dementia can often feel isolated, so being as social as possible can be of huge benefit. Regularly meeting up with friends and family is a huge boost to a persons mental wellbeing.
What Activities Can A Dementia Patient Do Alone?
If you are a carer for someone with Dementia then there will be times when you need to keep your loved one occupied on their own, without you with them. It can be tricky to find solo activities, especially as the disease progresses. However, here is a list of Dementia activities which can be enjoyed alone:
- Puzzle books which are designed for Dementia patients, so they are more manageable, for example: Liverpool Word Search Puzzle Book
- Colouring - there are so many adult colouring books available these days, and many which are specifically designed for those with Dementia. ‘Normal’ colouring books can designs which are too intricate and complex for Dementia patients, so having a more simplified option can be useful.
- No mess painting - these aqua paint sets are a brilliant idea for Dementia patients. No paint is needed - as you brush water onto the page, vibrant colours appear.
- There are various phone apps available now designed specifically for those with Dementia. One I’ve found to be particularly good is Memory Lane Games.
- There are various online activities designed for Dementia patients - quizzes or social calls which happen on Zoom, and Youtube channels with specialised content.
- I’ve found that asking my loved one with Dementia to paint large areas - the garden fence for example - has been an enjoyable task for them, as they can just get on with it and it becomes quite a relaxing and enjoyable activity, and by being given a job they are made to feel useful then too.
- Listening to music, particularly music from the earlier years of their life which they will remember and be fond of.
- Restoring/decorating furniture e.g. painting a wooden stool
Caring For Someone With Dementia Alone
If you are finding that caring for your loved one full time is getting too much for you and you need a break for a few hours, do some local research/get in touch with your city council to see if there are any services available where your loved one can visit a day care centre. If you live in Liverpool then the Sedgemoor Hub is a brilliant option. Or search online to see what care options are available, so a professional carer can spend a few hours with your loved one to give you a break.
Creative Ideas for People with Dementia
Art based activities are brilliant for people living with Dementia. If you keep the mindset that ‘there is no right or wrong way of doing things’ then these activities can be wonderful for Dementia patients as they will feel successful no matter what the outcome of the activity was. Some ideas to consider:
- See if there are local Dementia choir/singing groups that you can get involved with. Check out the Alzheimer’s Society Singing for the Brain website
- Following on from the previous point - listening to music together and singing along has proven to be hugely beneficial to help improve mood and make a person feel calmer. Listen to their favourite band from their younger years and sing along
- Dementia friendly drama groups
- Art based Dementia activities - drawing or painting classes
- Many cinemas or theatres/music venues will do Dementia friendly performances which can be a great option
- Gardening and planting flowers is always a great option. Consider adding sensory experiences throughout your garden - sculptures, water features, scented plants of varying colours, installing a bench, planting fruits/vegetables/herbs etc.
- Cook or bake together - have your loved one do manageable tasks such as mixing or decorating cakes.
- Create a memory box or photo album. As you arrange the pictures/items you can prompt discussion about each piece
- Following on from the previous point, you can create a box together that is connected to their past career/hobbies. For example, for a handyman the box might contain sandpaper, wood, nuts and bolts etc. Or an office worker’s would contain old letters, a calculator, pens and pencils, envelopes etc.
- Visit a museum or art gallery together. See if there are free guided tours available.
- Creating sculptures/shapes with modelling clay/plasticine/play dough. Not only will this help with dexterity, but it is a fun activity where it doesn’t matter what the result looks like
- Building with Lego is a long loved activity which is familiar to people of all ages.
- Making music together - if you have instruments lying around the house then great, but if not work with what you’ve got - use a box as a drum, tap a spoon against a glass bottle, twang a rubber band, release air from a balloon, shake a salt shaker etc. Music making activities can improve cognitive function and increase a person’s social involvement.
- Read a book together, or if reading is too difficult then consider trying audiobooks.
- For Christmas/Birthdays etc they can hand make greeting cards
- Create a fidget blanket/cushion together - pick out different fabrics and tactile objects to attach (e.g. velcro, velvet, string which can be plaited, beads on a string, create a fabric storage pouch etc.).
- Draw a family tree together and ask open-ended questions to prompt conversation e.g. “what sort of things did you enjoy doing as a child” and “what places would you visit with your family”
Take cues from the person and try to gauge what they are in the mood to do. Remember that if they are involved in the decision making, then they are much more likely to enjoy taking part. The Dementia activities you choose to do should be ‘failure-free’ so that the person with Dementia feels successful and happy no matter the outcome - don’t criticise or correct them. The goal is not to challenge them with new and difficult tasks, but to stimulate their senses and provide comfort through meaningful engagement.
Social Activities for a Person with Dementia
- In many cities now there are local Memory Cafés (also known as Dementia Cafés). These are a great place to meet up with other people with Dementia and their carers to share tips, advice, support and to have friendly chats in an informal setting. Also see what Dementia Support Groups are available in your local area.
- A brilliant Dementia activity idea you can share with your loved one is to look at old photos together and reminisce. You could help them to write their life story, using old photos and videos as prompts for them. Don’t be afraid to talk about the past - reminiscing can help with their memory recall and prompt conversations to help you reconnect. It can help them to regain a sense of personal identity. Ask them about their childhood, hobbies and happy events that have happened in their life.
- Go to an event together - be it a sport event or music.
- If you have a pet, or a friend/neighbour does, then walking and cuddling a pet can bring a sense of comfort and joy.
- Write letters - this could even be as simple as writing a letter to each other (even though you might live in the same house!) but having those handwritten letters is something you will both cherish.
- Attend a religious service in a place of worship - if religion is of importance to your loved one then taking them to a church/mosque/synagogue will help give them a sense of belonging and spirituality, and it may stimulate happy memories from their earlier years.
- Go fishing together, if you live near a river that allows fishing
Dementia Activities To Do With Children
It has been noted by Alzheimer’s Society that spending time together can be of huge benefit to both the child and the person living with Dementia. Family connections are strengthened and new memories are made together. If there are children in your family there’s some great ideas of activities to do together:
- Playing with toys together and using imagination
- Finger painting - a fun (but potentially messy!) sensory activity to enjoy together
Choose activities that suit the concentration span levels of the adult and child. Studies have found that adults in the early stages of Dementia can focus on fairly complex projects for around half an hour, whereas people in the late stages of Dementia were able to do simple sensory activities for around 15 minutes.
Puzzles and Brain Games for Dementia
As Dementia progresses, it is harder for people to use their cognitive skills for counting, memory, reasoning, visual perception etc. This can be a source of great frustration, and it can also cause them to lack concentration/focus. Puzzles and brain games (which are of a manageable level) are a brilliant way to keep your loved one occupied and to improve their hand-eye coordination.
I am developing a range of Dementia friendly word searches:
Designed specifically for adults living with Dementia, the word searches in these books only contain answers going from left to right - there are no backwards/diagonal/upside down words. I have seen from first-hand experience how overly complicated puzzles can cause frustration and a loss of interest in people living with Dementia. Written with a large 18x Arial font, these word search puzzles are designed to be enjoyable yet manageable, to encourage confidence and feelings of success.
Other examples of brain game activities are:
- Card games - ‘Snap’ for example, is a simple game to play, or simply shuffling and separating the cards according to colour/suit might be more manageable for your loved one.
- Board games - try to play simple games which your loved one is already familiar with e.g. ‘Snakes and Ladders’
- Simple crosswords
- Jigsaw puzzles - a good option for Dementia patients is this range by Relish. You can also have custom jigsaws made online using family photos.
- Scrabble - there are online or phone app versions that you can play for free
- Checkers or Dominos
- Playing Hangman
- Identifying countries on a map
- Doing a quiz on a topic/hobby they’re familiar with
- Threading dry pasta onto string - a task that will require their focus and hand-eye coordination
- Puzzle cube / Rubik’s cube
- The alphabet game - choose a topic (e.g. sports, locations, food) and write/say a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet
By doing puzzle games together or in a group setting there is a shared sense of camaraderie when the puzzle is solved.
Keep in mind that the focus should be on enjoying the process, not what the outcome is. If your loved one is completing a puzzle in their own unique way and is happy then don’t correct them, encourage them to continue. It doesn’t matter if the activity is completed ‘correctly’.
Daily Activities and Routines for Dementia Patients
Having a daily routine which revolves around healthy activities is so important for people of all ages as it provides a sense of control over the day, which in turn reduces stress and gives a source of focus. For basic activities - such as eating and washing - try to do them at a similar time each day, to bring a sense of stability.
- Taking a daily walk can be hugely beneficial. Vary things up by changing the route, or taking food to feed birds at a pond.
- Do gentle weight lifting. Find weights that are suitable for your loved one’s capabilities - even using cans of soup or beans is a great option. Strength training is hugely beneficial for enhancing the quality of ones life - you build muscle and prevent your joints from injury, helping a person to maintain independence as they age.
- If your loved one is particularly interested in certain aspects of nature there are many global attractions which offer live internet streams (for example zoos, nature preserves, museums, lakes/rivers). It can be a nice activity to share together each day, checking out the ever-changing video feeds from the comfort of your home.
How Can You Motivate Someone with Dementia?
Giving a person with Dementia tasks which are productive and useful can be so beneficial. Many people with Dementia feel like they are a burden to family members at times. Find simple tasks which are within their capabilities and are unlikely to cause stress, for example:
- Folding towels or pairing socks from the laundry (small hand towels are easier to manage)
- Raking leaves or brushing up outside
- Washing or drying the dishes (you could do this together to supervise/take it in turns)
- Ask them to prepare easy meals (e.g. sandwiches, ready-made meals etc.)
- Simple cleaning duties - e.g. dusting, hoovering, polishing furniture or silverware, cleaning worktops
- Watering plants
- Setting the table for a meal/clearing up
- Install a fish tank in your living room area and give your loved one the task of feeding them each day and helping you to clean the tank
- If you have a coin jar you can task them with sorting the coins (so long as there is no risk of them putting the coins in their mouth)
With all of these tasks, be mindful that your loved one might not complete the task perfectly - this does not matter, adjustments can be discreetly made later, out of their sight, to correct any mistakes. It is the feeling of being included, having a purpose and being useful that we are trying to achieve here. And in turn, that will lead to feelings of success and accomplishment, because they will have helped contribute to the household. It is important to create a positive and encouraging environment for your loved one.
Dementia Activities For People with Limited Mobility or Speech
If your loved one is past the stage where it’s no longer feasible for them to take part in activities, there are still things that you can do to help make them feeling more relaxed and happy.
- Give them a hand and arm massage with a scented lotion
- Softly brush their hair
- Playing music and listening to it with them, or reading a book to them
- Untie knots - using a piece of thick rope, loosely tie knots and then ask your loved one to help you untie them. This is a simple and tactile Dementia activity idea to provide cognitive and physical stimulation, improving dexterity and focus.
- Play a classic movie or tv show for them to watch which will bring a happy sense of nostalgia
- If your loved one is unable to take part in conversation, you can talk them through the things that you’re doing - for example, telling them about each step involved in preparing your evening meal. They will find comfort in hearing your voice, even if they are unable to respond.
I hope you have found this article useful and there have been some tips that can help to improve the quality of life for your loved one. Thank you for reading and I send you my best wishes on your Dementia journey.