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

Updated February 24, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, life can sometimes seem repetitive and challenging, both for you and them. Activities for dementia patients can relieve stress and make the days more enjoyable. They can bring you closer together, but they can benefit the person with dementia in many other ways, too. With some free time, props, and the right attitude, you can plan and supervise different activities for the person with dementia in your life. 

Caring For Someone With Dementia Can Be Challenging

How To Do Activities With Dementia Patients

Having a long list of activities for people with dementia on hand is only the first step. Knowing how to approach these exercises can also be important. The following tips can set you on the right course for providing higher-quality activities for a dementia patient.

Stick To One Planned Activity Per Day

To make day-to-day activities easier, you can 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 activity to do each day and write it on the calendar. Having too many planned activities may become confusing and frustrating for the dementia patient and exhausting for you both. 

During the day, you may take opportunities to talk about memories or do other simple activities as they arise. It can be important not to put any pressure on the person with dementia to participate in these exercises. Rather, let them choose what they’d like to do that day. 

Practice Safety

Safety is a crucial element in dementia care of any kind. Extend that commitment to the patient's safety in all your activities with them. Avoid using toxic materials or planning activities that may easily result in falls. If you are cooking, taking charge of the stove or oven can help the patient with dementia avoid getting burned. 

Be Flexible

Since dementia is a progressive disease, the person's condition may constantly change. An activity that worked today might not work tomorrow. Something that seemed boring to them a week ago might seem too challenging today. By being flexible, you can meet them on the level they are on right now.

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

You cannot force someone to be social, but you can encourage the person you are caring for to interact with you and others. One way is to ask them questions about what they like, enjoy, and prefer. Show interest when they tell you a memory and ask questions to prompt them to tell you more. Look for simple ways to reward engagement and keep them interested in future activities. 

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 you may even have some success. While it can be helpful to push them to stay engaged, remaining patient and gentle can help them have the most positive experience. Being too demanding may cause the individual to feel they have less control over their life, which can take away from the purpose of the activities. 

Focus On Strengths And Abilities

People with dementia may spend much of their time in a state of loss, finding that they continue to lose the skills and abilities they once had. However, there are likely some things that they can still do and maybe even do very well. 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. This can increase their confidence and self-efficacy. 

Use Kind Humor

Most people have used humor as a coping technique at some point or another. Certain types of humor can be derogatory or self-demeaning; however, using kind humor can brighten a dementia patient’s day and engage them socially and cognitively. Listen to their humor and let them know when they have said something funny. By doing so, you can build a stronger relationship with them and make them happier simultaneously,

Honor Their Remembrances

When you are doing 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 remember memories they have shared in the past and bring them up when they fit into the conversation. This personal and purposeful attention may help them feel more like themselves.

Benefits Of Dementia Activities

Dementia activities can serve a variety of purposes. While you supervise, it can be essential to remember that these activities are more than just time-killers. They are a way to lighten up and relax, but they can also have further benefits. As you engage seniors with dementia in different activities, focus on the benefits they can receive from them. 

Help Them Sleep Better

Activities for people with dementia can give them time to move around, challenge their bodies and minds, and maybe even get some fresh air. They are typically not so tricky that they aggravate medical conditions like arthritis, which might lead to nighttime aches and pains. One result is that they may sleep better at night. Sleep is an essential component of mental and physical health, and it can be especially important for individuals with dementia to get quality rest each night. 

Improve Their Self Esteem

When you show competency, it can be easier to improve your self-esteem. Even if the activity seems basic to you, when the dementia patient does well, it may remind them that they can still do and accomplish things. One’s self-efficacy can still be important even in old age. It may be even more critical when dementia takes away many of the skills and abilities they once had.

Stimulate Their Mind

The cognitive stimulation dementia patients get from daily activities can delay the progression of cognitive decline. Using their minds to follow simple instructions engages their senses, making it easier for them to follow the steps of self-care. Remembering events from the recent past can 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.

Engage Them In Social Situations

Social situations can become problematic as dementia patients lose their ability to think quickly and behave appropriately. Engaging in social interactions may allow them to practice listening, thinking quickly, and acting appropriately. The right level of social challenge can improve these skills without making them feel inadequate.

Ease Their Depression

Individuals living with dementia may be more prone to developing depression. This could be due to social isolation or helplessness stemming from their symptoms. Further, depression can be a risk factor for certain kinds 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. Why? Many of your physical and emotional needs are met when you're well-rested, think well of yourself, and feel mentally alert and socially engaged. Incorporating these activities into a dementia patient’s life can help them experience less cognitive decline while also promoting positive mental health.  

Decrease Effects Of Behavior Changes

Activities for seniors with dementia can also positively affect other behaviors. Many forms of dementia result in behavior changes that can be difficult to manage. They may act out in anger, even if they have never been violent. They may talk inappropriately or act impulsively. Dementia activities encourage them to follow the rules, get along with others, and enjoy things that make them happy. When they have these experiences, their behavior tends to be more appropriate to other situations.

Activities For Seniors With Dementia

If you are the caregiver for someone who depends on you, you probably do not have much spare time to think up activities. Therefore, it may be helpful to start with a pre-made list of activities for dementia patients. As you go along, you can add ideas to the list. When you do, remember to choose activities they can participate in, benefit from, and enjoy. Activities often fall into more than one category, which helps them even more. The following are just a few activities you can try.

Physical Activities For People With Dementia

Physical activities can be beneficial for strengthening major muscle groups, fine motor control, and cardiovascular health. Those listed below tend to be simple and require few props.

  • Toss a ball

  • Clip coupons

  • Sort poker chips

  • Rake leaves

  • String beads

  • Do simple gardening tasks

  • Fold laundry

  • Play horseshoes

  • Make a simple bird feeder by stringing cheerios

  • Dance

  • Sweep the porch

  • Cut out pictures from magazines

  • Wash windows together

Thinking tasks can be fun to supervise. The idea is to allow people to use their cognitive skills to the best of their abilities. While most dementia activities enable them to use their thinking skills, some are more centered on using the mind.

  • 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

  • Play Hangman

  • Recite poems

  • Finish well-known quotes

  • Name the states and state capitals

  • Sort objects by color and shape

  • Work on a jigsaw puzzle together

Activities Using Practical Skills

Using skills that they once had can make dementia patients feel more competent and productive. Even if they cannot do the complete task from beginning to end anymore, just being a part of it can brighten their day and build their self-esteem.

  • Bake cookies

  • 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 together and take apart PVC pipes and fittings

  • Sort hardware

Memory Activities

Sometimes, remembrance activities for dementia patients are the most enjoyable. 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 simple prompts to help call those memories to mind. Try these:

  • 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 historical events that happened in their youth 

  • Sing songs that were popular when they were young

  • Talk about their favorite teachers

 Outdoor Activities

Outdoor activities typically have several advantages, including the stress relief and physical benefits that often come with being in nature. Here are a few outdoor activities for dementia patients you can do together.

  • Take a walk

  • Rake leaves

  • Have a picnic lunch

  • Feed ducks

  • Play frisbee

  • Take a pet for a walk

Expressive Activities

Expressive activities for dementia patients can help them cope with the emotional toll of having a chronic and progressive condition. They may relieve stress for both of you and help with fine motor control and other physical abilities.

  • Take photos and make a collage of them

  • Start a scrapbook

  • Write in journals together

  • 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

Games For Dementia Patients

Several companies offer games for dementia patients that you can buy with everything you need and instructions for the game. You can also create your own games if you remember to put safety first and choose game activities the dementia patient can succeed at. Consider the following: 

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

  • Chair golf using an indoor putting green

  • Play a stacking game with sponges or party cups

  • Play simple card games with oversized cards

  • Play 'Name that tune' using songs from their early years

  • Play dominoes

Dementia Activities That Engage Them Socially

If you are the caregiver of someone with dementia, it can be important to recognize their need for social interaction. Activities that promote connection with others can help them stay engaged in treatment, with their support staff, and with life in general. Try these activities to help them practice their social skills:

  • Ask a local nonprofit for simple volunteer tasks.

  • 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 over a meal

  • Sit down and talk to them about their preferences

  • Invite someone to visit with them and bring a pet for both to enjoy

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

Activities For Dementia Patients In Assisted Living

People who are in assisted living can still have many skills and abilities. They may also have people their age nearby who can do activities with them regularly. Here 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 things they could do to brighten up the assisted living center and help them work together

  • Have a card party

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

Other activities for dementia patients in assisted living can sharpen their skills in personal care and homemaking. They could do these with neighbors, but they would typically do them with someone in their family, caregiver, or friend.

  • Sort socks

  • Fold clothing

  • Plan a meal

  • Comb each other's hair

  • Dress up in the colors of their favorite sports teams

Finding More Suggestions And Support

You can find more suggestions and support in several ways. To start, you can 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 find support for you as a caregiver and dementia patient as well. 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 life.

Caring For Someone With Dementia Can Be Challenging

Online Counseling With BetterHelp

You can also talk to a counselor for help with your concerns and feelings about being a caregiver for someone with dementia. BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that allows you to meet with your provider wherever and whenever you choose. This can be especially important for those who have busy schedules due to their caregiving responsibilities. A counselor can allow you to work out problems that are yours alone to solve and offer suggestions, information, and support as you need it. They are also available to help dementia patients with the unique struggles that may they face. 

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling 

It can be important for caregivers of those living with dementia to find support. For many, online counseling can help. In one study, researchers discovered that participants in an internet-based intervention “showed significantly lower symptoms of depression and anxiety.” This study also found that online interventions are “promising for keeping support for family caregivers accessible and affordable.”

The Takeaway

Dementia patients need new experiences, stimulation, and fun just like anyone else. 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. That being said, caring for someone with dementia or living with it yourself can still be a challenge. Connecting with an online therapist at your convenience can allow you to gain valuable coping skills and guidance for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started