While dementia affects cognition and behavior, a person with dementia can still have an interesting and purposeful life. Keeping your loved one regularly engaged with games and activities keeps their brain stimulated and helps improve their quality of life. By connecting through activities with your loved one living with dementia you can reduce negative behaviors, find joy, and maintain a positive relationship with the person living with dementia.
It’s important to find activities that are specifically suited to your loved one’s abilities and interests. If you are caring for a parent, relative, or loved one with dementia, read on below to discover how you can best support them with stimulating and rewarding activities.
*Special thanks to Patti La Fleur, Dementia Caregiver Advocate for her contributions to this article.
- What Are Dementia Activities?
- Activities for People With Dementia
What Are Dementia Activities?
Finding activities for people with dementia is one of the many aspects to tackle as a family caregiver. For people with dementia, an inactive lifestyle can make coping with their illness more difficult.
Having meaningful activities incorporated into their day-to-day routine is not only beneficial for their mind and bodies, but it is also an opportunity to spend quality time together.
Activities for people with dementia should be stimulating without being overwhelming. They should not be too complicated or cause frustration for the person doing them. Activities for people with dementia can be as simple as singing along to music, or more involved outings such as visiting a zoo or art museum.
Make sure when you are doing activities together you are focused on the process and not the product. This allows you to stay focused on connecting and maintaining a positive relationship rather than focusing on doing something the right way. This allows the person to feel successful.Patti LaFleur, Dementia Caregiver Advocate
Why Are Dementia-specific Activities Important?
People with dementia have different needs than other older adults. Because of the challenges associated with the illness, it is important to find dementia-specific activities that will not be too overwhelming or confusing. It’s important to incorporate activities into the daily routine, both for the older adult and the caregiver!
Dementia-specific activities are important because they will keep your loved one engaged and mentally stimulated. Activities can be a positive distraction if your loved one is depressed or isolated and challenging behaviors may also decrease.
How Are They Different Than Other Activities for Older Adults?
The goal is to keep your loved one mentally active and engaged but not to the point that they become frustrated. Many activities can be overstimulating for someone with dementia. This can increase anxiety and even trigger aggressive episodes.
It’s important to consider the skill set and limitations of your loved one when thinking of dementia games to play. Simple, failure-proof activities help reinforce your loved one’s self-esteem. They improve self-confidence while also relieving anxiety.
It is also important to focus on what the person living with dementia CAN still do and not to over simplify an activity if they can still successfully participate. This may look like letting the person living with dementia still help with folding laundry or shuffling a deck of cards when playing a game together.Patti LaFleur, Dementia Caregiver Advocate
To make this a regular habit, include dementia-friendly activities in your daily routine. Everyday activities such as household errands and grooming sessions can be adjusted so they can better fit into the lifestyle of your loved one.
Activities for People With Dementia
Whether you are looking for indoor or outdoor activities, there are a variety of ways to keep your loved one busy. Activities can be as simple as reminiscing about people and places from the past, or more complex like visiting the zoo or a popular public attraction.
Whatever activity you choose, make sure it’s one you can easily and safely leave behind if your loved one decides it’s not for them. It is also helpful and more engaging if you sit with the person living with dementia and use this as an opportunity to positively connect.
Depending on what stage of dementia your loved one is actively experiencing, some of these activities might not be appropriate.
Free Activities for People With Dementia
Keep in mind that you don’t need to spend money to entertain your loved one. There are several things you can do for free. Since you know your loved one best, you will be able to identify activities that you know will be meaningful.
Some examples of free activities include:
- Dancing at home.
- Watching favorite movies.
- Playing a fun card game.
- Listening to their favorite music.
- Singing-along to their favorite songs.
- Having them help you bake or cook by dumping pre-measured activities
- Cuddling a pet or a stuffed animal
- Plan a video call to another family member to connect
Reminiscing Games for People With Dementia
Reminiscing games are some of the best activities for seniors with dementia. This helps stimulate the mind and can even awaken old memories from the past.
- Play puzzle games that test their memory.
- Create a special memory box filled with their photos and mementos from the past.
- Identify and share stories of people in old photographs.
- Ask about stories from their past- even if you have heard them many times.
- Try a brain training app like Lumosity or online games.
- Reading a favorite poem together
Outdoor Activities for People With Dementia
Being around nature can be relaxing for people with cognitive deficits. Spending time with your loved one outdoors can be therapeutic not just for them but also for you.
Some of the outdoor activities you can do include:
- Take a walk outside.
- Visit a zen or rose garden.
- Visit an animal petting farm or a zoo.
- Plant flowers in the garden.
- Go bird watching.
- Dine al fresco- a great activity to involve other family and friends.
- Find a dementia-friendly walking group for your loved one.
- Helping with outdoor chores: taking out the trash, checking the mail, washing outdoor furniture, etc.
- Playing catch or tossing a ball
Indoor Activities for People With Dementia
For some people with dementia, crowded and noisy outdoor areas can be too overwhelming. It might be best to stay indoors, where the situation can be more controlled.
Some indoor activity ideas:
- Make their favorite food in the kitchen. Can they help with simple tasks like chopping vegetables or stirring?
- Have them help in doing a household chore and make it fun and engaging.
- Give them a hand, foot, or scalp massage.
- Read from one of their favorite books.
- Ask about past experiences.
- Play checkers, chess, or cards.
- Chair dancing/dancing
- Looking at a magazine
- Sorting socks or silverware
- Reading the newspaper together or reading to them
- Focusing on the sense of smell (smelling favorite candles, flowers, or scents)
- Things for the person living with dementia to touch (could be a soft blanket, a stuffed animal, a fidget blanket, a pop-it, etc.)
Crafting Activities for People With Dementia
Crafting is another mind-stimulating activity for seniors with dementia. Arts and crafts are enjoyable and challenging. They keep the hands busy while also encouraging creativity.
Some of the crafting activities you can try:
- Arranging flowers in a vase.
- Making a scrapbook. This is also a great time to talk about people in the photos and reminisce.
- Painting and drawing.
- Writing handmade cards for loved ones.
- Design and craft at-home ceramic mugs and plates with DIY sharpie mugs.
- Water paint
- Sensory bags (shaving cream and food coloring in a Ziploc bag OR clear hair gel, glitter, and beads in a Ziploc bag)
- Clay or playdough
Combining Activities and Exercise
Aside from cognitive stimulation, it is also ideal for older adults with dementia to remain physically active. Exercising regularly has loads of health benefits for the aging body. It strengthens bones and muscles, helps with balance and fall prevention, and more.
With a mindful routine of brain-stimulating activities and regular workouts, your loved one can enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
Easy ways to exercise for older adults:
- Chair exercises
- Gentle Yoga
- Fall prevention exercises
Lifestyle changes are inevitable when your parent or loved one receives a dementia diagnosis. However, this doesn’t mean they can no longer continue enjoying the activities they used to do.
Games, exercise, and social interaction can all help in improving the well-being of someone with dementia. With your support and encouragement, your loved one can have a meaningful and purposeful life.
Some easy and stimulating activities for seniors with dementia:
- Listening to their favorite music
- Taking a relaxing walk
- Having a meal with other family and friends
- Playing simple card games or utilizing brain-stimulating apps
- Chair exercises, Yoga, or other gentle physical activity
- Gentle massage of hands and feet, nail, and hair care.
Dementia-specific Activities Frequently Asked Questions
To develop a dementia-friendly routine for your loved one, you can adapt everyday activities to work with their daily life. Have them help out with regular activities like washing the dishes, setting the table, and gardening. Make each experience fun, meaningful, and useful.
Some free activities are sensory-stimulating activities and games. Sensory-rich activities include coin sorting, playing an instrument, folding towels, and listening to music. Fun games include trivia, creating home crafts, and simple puzzles.
Arts and crafts activities like painting, scrapbooking, and coloring are great ways to keep someone with dementia busy and engaged. They also stimulate the mind and decrease social isolation.
While a person with dementia may have cognitive issues, they can still enjoy a rich and meaningful life with various activities. Activities help stimulate the senses, improve self-confidence, and reduce anxiety.
Yes, sorting activities are great for those with dementia. Chore-like activities give a specific objective and also engage the senses. Sorting activities for dementia patients include organizing socks, labeling papers, and sorting photos.
Amie Clark, BSW
Aging Advocate and Senior Care Expert
Amie has worked with older adults and their families for the past twenty-plus years of her career. Her senior care knowledge is based on her experience as a social worker, family caregiver, and senior care consultant. Learn more about Amie here.