10 Activities for Seniors with Dementia10 Activities for Seniors with Dementia

As the number of patients suffering with dementia continues to grow, family caregivers and memory care facilities still struggle with figuring out the best way to properly care for dementia patients while also providing them with the means to enjoy their days.

The more challenging the work of caregiving gets, the easier it becomes to forget to give time to activities that improve quality of life. And staying active can slow down the mental decline of dementia. So these activities can not only improve a dementia patient’s day, but also help them maintain more of their memory and mental capacity for longer.

  1. Do improv.

Improv is a type of group comedy that involves making things up on the spot in a way that makes it easy for the other members of your group to do the same. While mostly known as a pastime of young comedians and performers, many seniors with dementia have started to give it a try.

Not only is improv a fun way to spend an hour or two and a good opportunity for socializing, but researchers have also found evidence that it improves the lives of the seniors that give it a go. Improv focuses on living in the moment and going with the flow, which takes the pressure off for people who spend most of their day confused about the lines between the past, present, and future.

  1. Listen to and create music.

Nobody wants to live a life without music. Seniors currently slipping into their memories of earlier times may find it difficult, if not impossible, to figure out how to pull up their favorite tunes on a computer or iPhone. That shouldn’t impede their ability to have music in their lives. Caregivers can make a point to play music for their loved one regularly, and nursing homes can schedule programs that bring in live music or allow residents a committed time for enjoying music they love.

Music therapy is often used to help seniors improve their memories or simply enjoy their life more. Some caregivers specifically seek out songs they know the patient loved in their past, which can inspire fond memories and give them the opportunity to sing along.

  1. Do crafts.

Crafts keep your hands busy and your mind focused on doing something creative. If a dementia patient is in the later stages of the disease, you may want to stick with simpler crafts, but you can find many crafts for seniors that aren’t too complicated to do (but also don’t seem too childish).

  1. Start gardening.

Gardening is a healthy activity that can get a person outside and focused on something that requires often-enjoyable work and progress. Research suggests it’s good for helping improve the mood of dementia patients.

As an added benefit, it produces healthy, fresh produce – the kind of ingredients doctors are quick to recommend to any senior.

  1. Cook or bake.

Like gardening, cooking is an activity that provides both a way to keep busy and a tasty, useful result. You should always make sure that someone’s present when a dementia patient is cooking, so there’s plenty of opportunity to catch potential safety issues like leaving the oven on. But equipping a senior with the proper ingredients and means to put together a delicious meal or dessert, especially one that enjoyed cooking throughout their life before the diagnosis, can leave them with a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that their day was productive.

  1. Spend time with animals.

Animals bring out the best in many of us. Some assisted living facilities have started to invite therapy dogs into the facility to give seniors an opportunity to interact with friendly animals that show them nothing but love. The results are often impressive – dementia patients who have kept to themselves for months suddenly show joy again in the presence of an affectionate animal.

If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, volunteering at a shelter or visiting with the animals that friends and family members have can be helpful to them. Later along, simply getting them into the same room with a friendly, well-trained dog can make a difference.

  1. Put together puzzles.

Puzzles are fun, challenging, and get your brain working. It’s also possible to work on them for hours without needing to remember what you’ve done before – you only need to focus on finding the fit to the next piece.

You can find puzzles designed with dementia patients in mind, some of them a bit simpler in nature so that they won’t be frustrating to patients, others with images from the past that might be meaningful to them.

  1. Play games.

Long, complicated board games like Monopoly might not be a great option for your typical dementia patient, but you can find plenty of games that will still be fun and manageable.

Card games, word games, and bingo are just a few examples that many dementia patients can still tackle and enjoy. And many games provide the added benefit of being a social opportunity for the senior as well.

  1. Go on walks.

It’s simple. It’s healthy. And it gets them out of the house. Walks come with lots of opportunities to see and take in new things. Whether it’s noticing the landscaping around your neighborhood, or watching the other people walking around the area as well.

You can shake things up by taking the senior to different areas of town for walks regularly. Seeing all new places and things is a good way to keep life from becoming monotonous. 

  1. Do household chores.

It doesn’t sound like fun, but doing chores around the house can serve a useful purpose for dementia patients (and not just in terms of having a cleaner house). That sense of accomplishment we’ve mentioned in relation to a few other activities can definitely come into play each time a senior finishes folding clothes or sweeping a room.

Further, household chores are likely something they’ve been doing their entire life. Keeping up with the good habits of old can help them feel like their life isn’t being taken over by the disease.

 

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Anything that a senior with dementia loved doing throughout their life that it’s still safe for them to do can be a good activity to work into their days. The most important point to take away from this piece is that staying active is important. Whatever form that takes, make sure the dementia patient you know and love is finding ways to participate in life and keep their days full.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and lifelong student with an ongoing curiousity to learn and explore new things. She turns that interest to researching and exploring subjects helpful to seniors and their families for SeniorAdvisor.com.

15 Comments

  1. Amy June 28, 2016 Reply

    How do you get the assisted living facility to do more activities. The one my mother currently lives in doesn’t do much. It would also be nice if they planned an evening activity as after dinner everyone goes to their rooms. I understand that the activities director probably only works 8-5pm but is there not a way for more of a variety of activites and possibly something simple for evening? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  2. Diane Fischer June 28, 2016 Reply

    The article is somewhat hopeful but what about the ones that are wheelchair bound. And the ones that have MD or their feet and arms are not strong enough to hold or wheel them selves around. Nursing Homes need to step up and provide much more needed care for these patients. Waiting a long period of time to be put into bed or changed can play on anyone’s mind.Interaction with patients that are not at the same level with one another can be very depressing. Administrators need to be MUCH MORE AWARE of what is going on with their staff and the patients well being. My Mother recently got hurt and with her Memory loss the facility came up with a unlikely cause, and I feel this is so unfair. The incident what not even reported.There is A LOT of neglect going on and someone or some agency needs to start looking into these facilities to make sure the patients are well taken care of for the price they have to pay.

  3. kate June 29, 2016 Reply

    My father has dementia. Even when he didn’t he and my mother (1st. gen. immigrants) did little besides working both outside the home & at home with their tenants & growing their own food at country properties where we went each weekend …to work.
    Improv? We don’t have a sense of fun or humour in our family. Only struggles.
    Puzzles, card game or other games? Even my 2 nd gen. kids don’t know any cus we didn’t have time for that on our little farm.
    Music is of no interest to us. My father can’t walk very far due to a broken back when he was a young construction worker in Canada. Animals? They belong only in a barn, then the freezer. As for cooking, baking etc., that is Woman’s Work in my fathers old European culture. Maybe if he had had these in his life after he escaped at age 19 he would not have extreme dementia now.

    So many helpful suggestions are culturally insensitive i find.

  4. Mike June 30, 2016 Reply

    It is reassuring to read that many of the activities I have been doing with my mother were in this article. Listening to her favorite music on YouTube at night is a great way to sooth her before going to bed and “sun downing.” I have also discovered that stuff animals are very comforting for her. It is a great replacement for a live animal and allows her to sleep with it which is very relaxing for her.

  5. pj August 4, 2016 Reply

    I have a very hard time getting the folks to even come out to do activities. They only want Bingo. I need exciting games or activities not for a holiday, everyday!

  6. Isabel August 8, 2016 Reply

    Hi Kate, I also have immigrant parents with exactly the same issues. I remember doing very few fun things with my parents. There was no such thing as a vacation, eating out because they were not brought up to do these things. When we came to the US, both of my folks worked in factories. We never saw them socialize, do things with friends. Now my Mom is in a nursing home with dementia and it’s difficult to find activities that she wants to do. She looks for my Dad all day and cries until he arrives. We tried having caretakers at home but this did not work out because she thought they were replacing her in taking care of the house. She threw them out and refused the medications that she needed. The only choice left was to put her in a nursing home, at least she takes her medications there. She never played games and her past time was cleaning house. I’m asking the nursing home to let her fold the laundry that they do for other residents, towels, etc. as an activity. We’ll see if they comply. It’s not easy. I understand what your going through.

  7. Timothy E. Pavone March 24, 2017 Reply

    Hey Kristin!

    You have mentioned very effective activities to manage dementia symptoms in elderly and really appreciate your work. Families of seniors with dementia can also consider consulting a well-known home care provider to allow their loved one find encouragement to boost mental wellbeing and lead a healthy and happy life in golden years as they age in place.

  8. max September 30, 2018 Reply

    I put my wife in the front seat of my car, and traveled the United States. We’re set to take another trip.

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