20 Stimulating Activities for Someone with Dementia
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People are racing for things to do to reduce their risk of developing dementia. Changing diets, taking on challenging brain teasers, exercising, meditating, and eating more vegetables are all popular tactics. Even more theories and tactics are emerging which may actually help prevent dementia in all its forms.

What about those who have already been diagnosed? As we learn how to become better caregivers, it is important to learn about what activities will help to engage someone who has been diagnosed regardless of the level of the disease.

Where to Begin When Planning Dementia-Friendly Activities

The one thing we do know is that being active and engaged is one way to slow the onset of dementia. So, where is a good place to begin? A good first rule for any caregiver: Meet your loved one where they are.

It is common for someone with a diagnosis of dementia to withdraw from social activities and events that are too stimulating. They try to hide symptoms and compensate with strategies that make sense to them. It is important to figure out ways to engage and interact with someone with dementia as it is unfolding. Here are some guidelines:

  • Avoid pointing out what they can no longer do. Respectfully, focus on options that compensate for skills that they may have lost. For example, if your loved one can no longer drive, sign up for a ridesharing program together or offer to drive them to events or appointments in a way that is supportive, genuine, and non-shaming.
  • Manage social events. There are many benefits to socialization for seniors. However, people with dementia can become anxious and frightened in large groups or unfamiliar environments. Instead, try to gather smaller group settings for social interaction. Dinners at home with a handful of people rather than larger gatherings in a restaurant are more supportive for someone who is navigating dementia.
  • Develop a support circle. Friends and family who understand and are willing to learn how to be great caregivers are of the utmost importance. The primary caregiver needs to create a circle or community of friends and family that can be supportive and can help with keeping the loved one engaged. Let them know that they will always be a vitally important presence in the family and community.

These basic guidelines will help you create a strong foundation that will help you determine activities that are engaging and nurturing for your loved one.

How to Choose Appropriate Activities for Dementia Patients

Along with the social components of caring for someone with dementia, it is important for the caregiver(s) to be intimately aware of a broad range of contributing factors in determining what will be helpful in maintaining an engaged and fulfilling day for a loved one. Here are some guidelines to take into account:

  • Abilities and skills. This is a broad topic, however, keeping track of how basic skills and abilities are deteriorating is vital. Is the person able to maintain their personal hygiene? Are they able to go to the grocery store and shop? Can they prepare a simple meal? Set the table? Clean up after a meal? Use a computer or phone? Are they having any trouble with tasks that have for the most part always been taken for granted?
  • Focus on enjoyment not achievement. What is naturally enjoyable? Meet your loved one with dementia where they are and guide them to do what they naturally find easy and enjoyable. Following this guiding principle will aid in reducing stress.
  • Be aware of any physical limitations. Paying attention to your loved one’s physical abilities and changes is always a moving target. Pay attention to energy levels, any changes in hearing, vision, or flexibility. Physical changes will require modification in activities so that they are still enjoyable. If your loved one gets tired or agitated, take a break.
    • Encourage involvement in daily life
    • Low hanging fruit of doing what is easy a favorite activity
    • Consider time of day
    • Adjust activities to accommodate stages of dementia

20 Stimulating Activities for Someone with Dementia

Keeping in mind all the various stages of dementia, there are a few common activities that can be enjoyed in some fashion. Accommodation might be required, but these activities can be very engaging and encouraging:

  1. Crossword puzzles. A great activity for people with early to mid-stage dementia are word games and crossword puzzles. They help reduce stress and help keep the problem-solving brain active and boosts confidence.
  1. Jigsaw puzzles. There are online jigsaw puzzles and wonderful boxed puzzles that make for a stimulating activity for those in early states of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. There are even online puzzles designed for people with dementia. Let your loved one choose a theme or image that they enjoy, and do the puzzle together.
  2. Computer games. Whether it be puzzles, brain teasers like Sudoku or card games, coloring books, or watching videos on YouTube, there are an ever-increasing number of dementia-friendly computer games available for those who are able to use a laptop or tablet.
  3. Bingo. A fun activity for just about everyone, Bingo is a classic game that can be easily adapted for people with dementia. It can help stimulate the thought process and stimulate the memory.
  1. Card matching games. Matching images can be of birds, flowers, pictures of friends and family. Whether you buy a game or make one for your loved one, these types of games can help flex the memory muscle and provide for a fun way to spend an afternoon.
  2. Jokes. Humor can always help. For caregivers, having a few good jokes in their pocket for those days when the person you are caring for is down or anxious can turn a day around. There are many great jokes to choose from on the internet. Find a few that your loved one will enjoy and surprise them with a good laugh.
  3. Chair exercises. There are online videos available that will take you and your loved one through a seated exercise class. They involve moving each part of the body. From a seated position some of the exercises are marching, twisting the upper torso, raising the arms above the head, raising the opposite leg and arm. Chair exercise is a safe way exercise for those who have balance or back issues.
  4. Swimming. For those who enjoyed swimming before dementia, water aerobics may be a great option for those in the early stages of their illness.
  5. Dance. This is a very social option which can take many forms. It can be as simple as swooping your loved one up and dancing to a favorite song. It can be an online class or a grand improvisation that can even be done from a chair. Dancing can change one’s mood and help agility and balance.
  6. Tai chi or qigong. These are forms of Chinese martial arts that are soothing and gentle. By concentrating on one’s breath and easy movements this might be the right option especially to help reduce anxiety while introducing exercise to those who never had a regular exercise program.
  1. Painting or drawing. Getting creative and letting someone draw or paint without having to do it well or correctly can be a liberating and serene way to create a zone of calm. Art can be an activity that doesn’t include questions or testing that are usually a big part of the day for one with dementia.
  2. Collage. This is a lovely option for one who has limited use of their hands. Holding a pencil or paintbrush might not be an option. However, arranging pre-cut shapes and colors can make for a rich and creative time.
  3. Make a memory box. Don’t be afraid to bring up memories. Dementia patients have histories and activities that accompanied them throughout their life, celebrate those activities and memories that they love. Bringing together items from days gone by may bring up these memories and provide for some wonderful storytelling.
  1. Gardening and flower arranging. Having access to a garden, terrace, or window box is a great way to be active, get some exercise, and be with nature. There are many options for gardening activities that can meet the dementia patient where they are in terms of ability. Touching nature and being able to watch something grow can be an important aspect of one’s care.
  2. Music. Sing or listen to music that your loved one really enjoys. This can bring up some special memories. Music can benefit those with dementia by reducing agitation, helping with listlessness, and more.
  3. Read. For those who are bookworms but have trouble reading, listening to a story can be relaxing and enjoyable. They may love to hear the sound of someone reading a story for the pleasure of the moment.
  4. Bake or cook together. Keep it simple and encourage your loved one. Especially if they have a history of loving to bake or cook. This is a great activity for feeling a sense of accomplishment. If they can help or make something on their own, let them and enjoy the result.
  5. Nature walks. This is a wonderful and simple way to spend time together. Whether it’s a walk or a wheelchair excursion, getting some fresh air is something to do with your loved one whenever possible.
  6. Play with a pet. For many, having a pet around is soothing and calming. There are many benefits of pets for seniors. Although a crucial factor with this is having someone available to make sure that the pet is being properly cared for under all circumstances. For advanced dementia patients who have had animals in their life, a stuffed animal could also bring calmness and comfort.
  7. Set up a fish tank or a bird feeder. This can be a great way to brighten anyone’s day. Setting up a small fish tank has been shown to reduce depression among dementia patients living in memory care facilities. Another great thing to do is to set up a hummingbird bird feeder or a bird feeder outside of a window that your loved one spends a lot of time near.

Resources

Activities from Alzheimer’s Organization

10 Stimulating Activities for Alzheimer’s Patients

50 Activities from Alzheimer’s Organization

Activities to do at Home from Alzheimer’s Organization

Shop for Stuffed Animals

About the Author(s)

As a Volunteer Caregiver to the Zen Hospice Project and a Course Manager at the CareGivers Project, Audrey Meinertzhagen is passionate about improving the standards of care for older adults and educating caregivers on the principles of mindfulness and self-care.

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