Activities For Dementia Patients: How To Do Them And How They Help

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

A set of symptoms typically associated with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, dementia can significantly impact an individual’s cognitive functioning, physical health, and overall quality of life. When you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, challenges can occur in daily living, especially if the person is experiencing significant memory loss. Activities for dementia patients may relieve stress, evoke comforting memories, and provide enjoyment for both the caregiver and the individual with dementia. In addition, engaging activities may bring you closer together and potentially slow cognitive decline. With some free time, props, and a positive attitude, you can plan and supervise fun activities for the person with dementia in your life. 

Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging

Activities for seniors with dementia

When planning activities for people with dementia, it's important to tailor them to the person's current abilities. For those in the middle stage of dementia, marked by noticeable memory lapses and greater difficulty with daily tasks, choose tasks with easy-to-follow steps to ensure meaningful engagement. 

If you are the caregiver for someone who depends on you, finding time to plan activities may be difficult. Therefore, it may be helpful to start with a pre-made list. As you go along, add your own ideas. However, choose activities they can participate in, benefit from, and enjoy. 

Below are a few activities to start with, organized into categories to ensure a balance of different types of activities. 

Physical activities 

Physical activities can be beneficial for strengthening major muscle groups, fine motor control, and cardiovascular health. Activities with physical stimulation may require minimal effort, which can be helpful for those with this condition, and may include the following: 

  • Toss a ball

  • Clip coupons

  • Sort poker chips

  • Rake leaves

  • String beads

  • Complete simple gardening tasks 

  • Fold laundry

  • Play horseshoes

  • Make a bird feeder by stringing Cheerios and hanging them up outside

  • Dance

  • Sweep the porch

  • Cut out pictures from magazines

  • Wash windows together

Mental activities 

Mental tasks may be fun to supervise. During these tasks, you can help your loved one use their cognitive skills to the best of their abilities. Many dementia activities promote mental enrichment and can help keep the minds of dementia patients engaged, including the following: 

  • Sort playing cards

  • Read a book that is currently popular with older children

  • Ask them to teach you a skill they know, such as crocheting

  • Count coins you save in a jar

  • Recite poems

  • Finish well-known quotes

  • Name the states and state capitals

  • Sort objects by color and shape

  • Work on a jigsaw puzzle together

  • Practical activities 

Using skills they once excelled in may give people with dementia a sense of competence and productivity. Even if they cannot complete the task from beginning to end, participating in the activity may brighten their day and build their self-esteem. Below are a few options: 

  • Baking biscuits

  • Make pudding

  • Fold towels

  • Sand wood

  • Make iced tea

  • Bake bread

  • Make a salad

  • Water houseplants

  • Pop popcorn

  • Decorate cupcakes

  • Roll up yarn into a ball

  • Polish shoes

  • Give each other manicures

  • Press autumn leaves or flowers

  • Untie knots

  • Fit and take apart PVC pipes and fittings

  • Sort hardware

  • Use wooden blocks to build a structure 

Having a stimulating home environment with objects that have diverse textures or colors may help make practical activities more engaging. In addition, creating such an environment can support memory stimulation, making it easier to remember things by interacting with items that look and feel different.

Memory activities

Memory activities aren't exercises in memory or cognitive function but activities about the memories your loved one holds. You can show the individual you're caring for that you are interested in their past by encouraging them to tell you about specific memories and giving them prompts. Try the following: 

  • Ask about their first home or car

  • Listen to them as they talk about their favorite pet

  • Let them tell you about their favorite sports hero of all time

  • Talk about a summer you experienced with them

  • Ask them what they thought about positive historical events from their youth 

  • Sing songs that were popular when they were young

  • Talk about their favorite teachers

Many families, loved ones, and caregivers create virtual memory books that contain family photos and information on past events that make up the person’s life story. In addition to old family pictures, these books might contain photos of hobbies or past interests and descriptions of children, pet names, or special anniversaries to help stimulate memories. 

Outdoor activities

Outdoor activities may have several advantages, including the stress relief and physical benefits that often come with being in nature. Below are a few outdoor activities for dementia patients: 

  • Take a walk

  • Rake leaves

  • Have a picnic lunch

  • Feed ducks

  • Play frisbee

  • Take a pet for a walk

  • Listen to music in the garden 

  • Wade in a shallow pool on a hot day 

Expressive activities

It’s important for people with dementia to have healthy outlets for their emotions. Expressive activities for dementia patients can help them cope with the emotional toll of having a chronic and progressive condition. They may relieve stress and improve fine motor control and other physical abilities. Below are a few options to consider: 

  • Take photos and make a collage together 

  • Start a scrapbook

  • Write in journals 

  • Finger-paint

  • Color in coloring books

  • Weave and decorate a paper May Day basket

  • Arrange flowers

  • Play a musical instrument such as a harmonica, a tonette, or a homemade percussion instrument

  • Make greeting cards for family and friends

Music therapy and musical activities have been associated with slowed cognitive decline and better memory in some elderly dementia patients. 

Fun activities 

Some companies offer games for dementia patients that you can buy ready to use. These games often come with instructions. You can also create your own games if you remember to put safety first and choose game activities that are easy to win. Below are a few options:  

  • Play Skee-Ball using plastic bowls marked with scores and bean bags 

  • Play chair golf using an indoor putting green

  • Play a stacking game with sponges or party cups

  • Play card games with oversized cards

  • Play "Name the Tune" using songs from their early years

  • Play dominoes

Social activities 

If you are the caregiver of someone with dementia, you might recognize the benefits of social interaction, including attending social events with family or friends. Activities that promote connection with others can help your client stay engaged in treatment, with their support staff, and with life in general. Try the following social activities: 

  • Ask a local non-profit for volunteer tasks your patient may be able to do 

  • Take them to visit a friend or invite someone over for tea

  • Bring them to a senior nutrition center where they can talk to others their age 

  • Talk to them about their preferences for treatment 

  • Invite someone to visit with them

  • Hire a therapy animal to visit them 

  • Ask them if they would like to call a loved one who lives far away

Technology-based dementia activities 

As technology continues to progress, more activities are becoming available for dementia patients in the digital world. These activities may help provide sensory and visual cues, facilitate emotional expression, and encourage engagement in a variety of interactive and fulfilling ways. Below are some technology-based activities to consider:

  • Try interactive music apps that allow patients to guess a song and see how many songs they remember from the past

  • Use a family video tablet to show and enjoy family photos

  • Download virtual reality experiences to discover nature or specific destinations around the world

  • Attend virtual social events to connect with others

  • Solve digital puzzles or play games designed to engage the mind 

  • Try online art programs to allow for creative emotional and visual expression through digital drawing and painting

Assisted-living activities 

Those in assisted living can still have many skills and abilities. Memory care and other assisted living facilities also offer people living with dementia the opportunity to connect with other people in their age group. Other people living in such a community may have similar cognitive abilities and might be willing to participate in activities with them. Below are a few actions you might supervise for your loved one and their neighbors or friends:

  • Write a group poem together

  • Ask for suggestions for ways to brighten up the assisted living center 

  • Have a card party

  • Have them interview each other and tell the group what they learned

  • Sort socks

  • Fold clothing

  • Plan a meal

  • Comb each other's hair

  • Dress up in the colors of their favorite sports teams

How to lead activities for dementia patients

Having a long list of activities for people with dementia on hand is the first step. Knowing how to approach these exercises is the second. The following tips may set you on the right course for providing higher-quality activities for your loved one or client with dementia. 

Stick to one planned activity per day

To make daily activities easier, create an activity calendar. When you make your calendar, note any supplies or props you need and have those on hand at the beginning of each week. Choose one fulfilling dementia activity to do each day and write it on the calendar. Too many planned activities may confuse and frustrate the individual, so keep the activities light. Don't pressure your client to partake in activities if they don't want to, as it may worsen their symptoms. 

Practice safety

Safety can be a crucial element in dementia care. Extend that commitment to the patient's safety in all your activities. Avoid using toxic materials or planning activities that may result in falls. If you are cooking, take charge of the stove or oven to reduce the risk of burns or improper use. In addition, supervise any activities with serrated objects like scissors. 

Be flexible

Since dementia is a progressive disease, the person's condition may constantly change. An activity that worked today might not work tomorrow. A game that seemed boring to them a week ago might be challenging for them now. By being flexible, you can meet them at their level.  

Remain adaptable in your choices of activities, your expectations of the dementia patient's participation, the speed at which you get through the activities, and their complexity. Pay close attention to their responses and try to adjust the exercises accordingly.

Encourage engagement

Don't try to force someone to be social. Instead, encourage the person you are caring for to interact with you and others. One way to encourage socialization is to ask them questions about what they enjoy. Show interest when they tell you about a memory and ask questions to prompt them to tell you more. Look for ways to reward engagement and keep them interested in future activities. However, don't punish an individual for not wanting to socialize. 

Take a gentle approach

Activities and games for dementia patients are meant to improve their quality of life. You can aim to improve their condition and may have some success. However, dementia is a progressive condition, and symptom progression will occur.

While it may be helpful to encourage them to stay engaged, remaining patient and gentle can help them have the most positive experience. Being too demanding may cause the individual to believe they have less control over their life or that you see them as a child, which can take away from the purpose of the activities. 

Focus on strengths and abilities

People with dementia may spend their time in a state of loss, finding that they continue to lose the skills and abilities they once had. Therefore, you may want to first look at the person’s current abilities and the skills they continue to excel at. Find their strengths, give them a chance to show them, and acknowledge them with words and actions. Look for their strongest abilities and try to pick activities that allow the dementia patient to practice them. These activities may increase their confidence and self-efficacy. 

Use kind humor

Some people use humor as a coping technique. Certain types of humor can be derogatory or self-demeaning. However, using kind humor may brighten a dementia patient's day and engage them socially and cognitively. Listen to their humor and tell them when they have made a funny joke. By doing so, you can build a stronger relationship with them. 

Honor their remembrances

When partaking in remembrance activities for seniors with dementia, show that you respect their life experiences and the wisdom and perspective they have gained over the years. You can do this by practicing active listening. You can also consider memories they might have and bring them up when they fit into the conversation. This personal and purposeful attention may help them be more comfortable talking about themselves. 

Benefits of dementia activities for improved mental and cognitive abilities

Dementia activities can serve various purposes and are more than ways to pass the time. They can offer a way to lighten up and relax but may also have significant benefits. As you engage individuals with dementia in different activities, focus on the benefits they can receive, including the following. 

Improved sleep 

Activities for people with dementia can give them time to move around, challenge their bodies and minds, and get fresh air. Because they stay enriched during the day, they may sleep better at night. Sleep is an essential component of mental and physical health, and it can be crucial for individuals with dementia, as a lack of sleep can worsen their symptoms. 

Improved self-esteem

When an individual with dementia perceives themselves as capable, they may also experience improved self-esteem. Even if the activity seems basic to the caregiver, the dementia patient may experience a sense of confidence when they can still make accomplishments. This benefit may be critical when dementia takes away the skills and abilities they once had.

Mental stimulation 

The cognitive stimulation dementia patients get from daily activities can delay the progression of cognitive decline. Using their minds to follow instructions engages their senses, making it easier for them to follow the self-care steps. Remembering events from the recent past may keep them from slipping into repetitive thoughts of the past as often. Learning new games can help them use parts of their brains that they might not use as much.

Social engagement 

Social situations can become problematic as dementia patients lose their ability to think quickly and behave appropriately. Engaging in positive social activities may allow them to practice listening, thinking quickly, and acting appropriately. A social challenge can improve these skills without making them believe they are inadequate.

Reduced depression symptoms 

Individuals living with dementia may be more prone to developing depression due to social isolation or helplessness stemming from dementia symptoms. Further, depression can be a risk factor for certain types of dementia. The benefits of dementia activities, such as quality sleep, higher self-esteem, social interaction, and mental stimulation, are associated with lower levels of depression. 

Physical and emotional needs are met when an individual is well-rested, has high self-esteem, and is mentally alert and socially engaged. Incorporating these activities into a dementia patient's life can help them experience reduced cognitive decline and more positive mental health.  

Reduced behavioral change severity 

Activities for seniors with dementia may positively affect behaviors. Dementia often results in negative or harmful behavior changes that can be difficult to manage. A dementia client may act out in anger, even if they were not a violent person before. They may talk inappropriately or act impulsively. 

Dementia activities encourage individuals to follow the rules, get along with others, and enjoy what makes them happy. When they have these experiences, their behavior may improve. 

How to find more suggestions and support

You can find more suggestions and support from other professionals. To start, you might talk to someone who works with dementia patients in an adult day care center or the memory care unit of a nursing home. Consider contacting national and local dementia organizations to see if they have a list. 

You can also find support as a caregiver. Ask your case manager for a list of support groups that might benefit both of you. Other lifestyle changes, like having a routine, can also help with stability and consistency in your and your patient's daily lives. For specific medical questions or concerns, contact your patient's doctor or request their family do so. 

Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging

Support options 

Caregiving can be emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting and sometimes results in compassion fatigue, a form of mental burnout. If you're struggling with your mental health as a caregiver, consider contacting a licensed therapist for support. 

If you are too busy offering caregiving services to find time for a weekly session in your area, you can also try therapy through an online platform like BetterHelp. Through an online platform, you can meet with a therapist at any time from any location with an internet connection. Online therapy can also be an option for dementia patients in the beginning stages, as it offers a way to receive therapy from home without navigating complex systems like transportation. 

Studies back up the effectiveness of online methods in treating caregivers who have symptoms of depression and anxiety. In one study, researchers discovered that caregiver participants in an internet-based intervention showed significantly lower symptoms of depression and anxiety. The study also found that online interventions can keep support for family caregivers affordable.


Dementia patients often benefit from new experiences, stimulation, and fun. However, they may not be able to organize activities by themselves and often require assistance from their caregivers or loved ones. You can make a difference in their lives by spending time with them and engaging their minds in meaningful activities. 

If you're struggling to cope with your own mental health as a caregiver, there are ways for you to receive support. Connecting with a therapist at your convenience can allow you to gain valuable coping skills and guidance. Consider contacting a provider online or in your area to get started.

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