Activities For Dementia Patients: How To Do Them And How They Help
By: Danni Peck
Updated February 26, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Lisa Cooper
When you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, life can seem bleak at times, both for you and for them. Activities for dementia patients can relieve stress and make the days go a little easier. They can bring you closer together, but they can benefit the person with dementia in many other ways, too. All you need is a little free time, a few props, and the right attitude to plan and supervise helpful activities.
Benefits Of Dementia Activities
Dementia activities serve a variety of purposes. While you are supervising, it is important to keep in mind that these activities are more than just time-killers. They are a way to lighten up and relax, but they are so much more. As you engage the senior with dementia, focus on the benefit they may receive.
Help Them Sleep Better
Activities for people with dementia give them a time to move around, challenge their bodies and their minds, and maybe even get some fresh air. They are not so difficult 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.
Improve Their Self Esteem
When you show competency, it can be easier to improve your self-esteem. Even if the activity seems very basic to you, when the dementia patient does well at it, it may remind them that they can still do and still accomplish things. This is still important to them. In fact, it may be even more important when dementia is taking 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 minds so that it may be 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 for dementia patients can help them use parts of their brain that they might not use as much otherwise.
Engage Them In Social Situations
Social situations can become difficult as dementia patients lose their ability to think quickly and behave appropriately. Engaging in social interactions may give them opportunities to practice listening, thinking quickly, and behaving appropriately. The right level of social challenge can improve these skills without making them feel inadequate.
Ease Their Depression
The other benefits of dementia activities, such as good sleep, higher self-esteem, social interaction, and mental stimulation, are associated with lower levels of depression. Why? When you're well-rested, think well of yourself, feel mentally alert and socially engaged, many of your physical and emotional needs are already met.
Decrease Effects Of Behavior Changes
Activities for seniors with dementia can also have a positive effect on 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 before. 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 as well.
Activities For Seniors With Dementia
You can create a master list of activities and games for dementia patients. It may be great idea to start with a pre-made list of activities. After all, if you are the caregiver for someone who depends on you so much, you probably do not have a lot of spare time to think up activities every day.
As you go along, you can add your ideas to the list. When you do, remember to choose activities that they will be able to participate in, benefit from, and enjoy. Activities often fall into more than one category, which benefits them even more. The following are just a few of the activities you and the dementia patient might enjoy.
Physical Activities For People With Dementia
These physical activities are simple and require few props. Physical activities can work on strengthening major muscle groups, fine motor control, and cardiovascular health.
- 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
- Sweep the porch
- Cut out pictures from magazines
- Wash windows together
Thinking tasks are easy and fun to supervise. The idea is to allow the person to use their cognitive skills to the best of their abilities. While virtually all dementia activities give them a chance to use their thinking skills, some are more centered on using the mind.
- Sort playing cards
- Read a book thatis 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 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
Sometimes, the remembering activities for dementia patients are the most enjoyable of all. Keep in mind that your loved one may not know whether you are interested in their past. Encourage them to tell you about specific memories, giving them simple prompts to help call those memories to mind.
- Ask about their first home or their first 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 shared 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 typically combine several different benefits along with the stress-relieving benefits of being outside. Here are a few outdoor activities for dementia patients that 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 for dementia patients can help them deal with the emotional toll of having a chronic and progressive condition. They may relieve stress for both of you and may also help with fine motor control and other physical abilities.
- Take photos and make a collage of them
- Start a scrapbook
- Write in journals together
- Color in coloring books
- Weave and decorate a paper Mayday basket
- Arrange flowers
- Play a musical instrument such as a harmonica, a tonette, or a homemade percussion instrument
- Make greeting cards for family members 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 games if you remember to put safety first and choose game activities the dementia patient can succeed at.
- PlaySkee-ball using plastic bowls marked with scores and bean bags for tossing into them
- 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
Social interaction helps people stay engaged with others, their support staff and treatment, and life in general. If you are the caregiver of someone with dementia who is living in your home, you can do these activities to help them practice social skills.
- Ask a local nonprofit for simple volunteer tasks
- Take them to visit a friend or invite someone over for a 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 still have many skills and abilities. They also have people their age nearby who they can do activities together regularly. Here are a few activities you might supervise for your loved one and their neighbors.
- Write a group poem together
- Ask for suggestions of things they could do to brighten up the assisted living center and help them work together to accomplish it
- 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 just a family member, caregiver, or friend.
- Sort socks
- Fold clothing
- Plan a meal
- Comb each other's hair
- Dress up in the colors of your favorite sports teams
How To Do Activities With Dementia Patients
Having a long list of activities for people with dementia on hand is only the first step. You know what to do, but you may not know how to approach the exercises. The following tips can set you on the right course for providing a better quality of life for a dementia patient.
Stick To One Planned Activity Per Day
You can make a dementia activity calendar each month to make day-to-day activities easier. When you make your calendar, note any supplies or props you need to do them, 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 becomes confusing and frustrating for the dementia patient and exhausting for you both. During the day, you may want take opportunities that come up to talk about memories or do other simple activities as they arise. If you do, do not put any pressure on the person with dementia at all. They can do it or not, their choice.
Safety is a crucial element in dementia care of any kind. Extend that commitment to the patient's safety to all the activities you do with them. Avoid using toxic materials. Avoid activities that may easily result in falls. If you are cooking, you need to take charge of the stove or oven.
Because dementia is a progressive disease, the person's condition is always changing. What worked yesterday 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.
Be flexible in your choices of activities, your expectations of the dementia patient's participation, the speed at which you do the activity, and the complexity of the activity. Pay attention to their responses and adjust the activity accordingly.
You cannot force someone to be social. You can, though, 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, such as by giving extra attention.
Take A Gentle Approach
The idea of activities and games for dementia patients is to improve their quality of life. You can aim to improve their condition, and you may have some success. However, if you push them so hard that their mood suffers, you have not helped them at all. Being gentle and patient can give them the best possible experience. If you are too demanding or harsh, you will likely find that it backfires, causing their condition to worsen.
Focus On Strengths and Abilities
Dementia patients spend much of their time in a state of loss. Every day may bring new losses to their skills and abilities. They can still do some things and may even be able to do them very well. Find their strengths, give them a chance to show them, and acknowledge them with words and actions. Look for their abilities and do activities that let the dementia patient practice them.
Use Kind Humor
Nearly everyone uses humor as a coping technique at some time. Certain types of humor are derogatory or self-demeaning. However, if you use kind humor, you can brighten their day and engage them socially and cognitively. Also, listen for their humor and let them know when they have said something funny. You will build a better relationship with them and make them happier at the same time.
Honor Their Remembrances
When you are doing remembering activities for seniors with dementia, show that you respect their life experience and the wisdom and perspective they have gained from it 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 attention may help them feel more like themselves and less like a dementia patient.
Finding More Suggestions And Support
You can find more suggestions in several ways. You can talk to someone who works with dementia patients in an adult day care center or memory care unit of a nursing home. Contact national and local dementia organizations to see if they have a list.
You can find support for you as a caregiver and the dementia patient as well. Ask your case manager for a list of support groups that might be beneficial for both of you.
You can also talk to a counselor for help with your concerns and feelings about being a caregiver for someone with dementia. There are always things you cannot say to someone who youare caring for. A counselor can allow you to work out problems that are yours alone to solve. They can offer suggestions, information, and support whenever and wherever you choose. Licensed counselors can help you deal with your issues, too.
You can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com to get the assistance, understanding, and strategies you need now. Help is waiting for helpers and dementia patients alike.