Activities for People with Dementia
It’s widely suggested that keeping your brain active and flexible on a daily basis can potentially reduce your chances of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, although researchers are still working on truly understanding the cause of memory diseases. However, once a loved one is diagnosed with a cognitive disease, you can still find benefits of mentally stimulating activities, including board games, puzzles, and other hands-on activities.
Whether you are working with an Alzheimer’s patient on a daily basis, or looking for something to do together on your next visit with a loved one, the following games can help start conversations, bring up happy memories, or just give families and friends something fun to do together to connect.
A study by the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementia reported that people with dementia who played bingo performed significantly better on measures of cognition than participants who did not play, and that alertness and awareness seemed to last for hours after testing was complete. Bingo can be played in a large group or one-on-one, and you can alter the items being matched (using pictures instead of numbers, for example) to make it stage-appropriate for the individual. You can also find jumbo-sized boards and number cards to help with visibility, or make your own handmade cards.
2. Daily Activities as Play
Daily activities from previous life can give comfort and stability to person living with dementia, with familiar tasks helping to alleviate anxiety. For example, a person with dementia may enjoy sorting and counting play money. A baby doll makes it easy for them to recall what it’s like to care for their children throughout the day. Consider tasks that the person did often as a young man or woman, and introduce the activity as a chance for them to teach you how they did it. Another fun option is to review old cookbooks together, recalling how favorite family recipes were perfected.
3. Find It Game
Perfect to enjoy with younger generations, this game is different each time you play it. The idea is that numerous small objects (a penny, a rubber band, a pebble, a screw, etc.) are hidden in a large container of corn, rice, birdseed, or other material. Each player draws a card listing an item hidden in the container, then must reach in and fish around until the item is found. You can buy a premade version of the game, or make one yourself.
Another great intergenerational activity, puzzles can easily be selected based on the individual’s stage of dementia. Puzzles can be simple with large pieces, or more complex, taking several days to complete. You can purchase puzzles that are more challenging to the memory, such as a map of the United States where the states’ pieces are the actual shape of the state. You could also take an interesting photo puzzle, and encourage the person to create a story about what’s going on in the image as they work on the puzzle.
5. Memory Bag
If you’re looking for ice-breaker activities for your next visit, why not create your own memory bag? Gather items that the person would have been familiar with from earlier life, preferably in their 20s or 30s, and put them in an opaque bag. Consider items that speak to several senses, including smell, touch, sight, and even sound. Have the person draw from the bag one item at a time, and then encourage them to share a memory that is sparked by the item. If a memory cannot be recalled, take some time to discuss your own memories. For example, if you bring a candle that is gingerbread-scented, you can discuss how grandmother always baked gingerbread cookies during the holidays.
- Let children play with the individual as much as possible. This not only helps build memories for younger generations, but the youthful energy can be contagious. It allows both parties to learn from each other.
- Consider bringing several board games the person might remember from childhood or younger years, and allow him or her to pick which to play.
- Avoid small pieces that could be choking hazards. Choose games with large game pieces or boards, with a wide range of colors and textures.
- Consider games and activities that incorporate some physical activity as well.