People with dementia may benefit from and enjoy engaging in meaningful activities. Activities such as going outdoors and performing household tasks can help them live well with their condition, reduce their symptoms, and even slow the progression of dementia.
There is no cure for dementia. Most often, treatment focuses on improving quality of life, maintaining function and independence, and promoting safety.
Providing engaging and fun activities can offer stimulation, help fight boredom, and bring pleasure to the lives of people with dementia. It may also reduce harmful behaviors and slow the progression of the disease.
This article explores the importance of keeping people with dementia active and offers an extensive list of engaging activities for caregivers to do with them.
Most people with dementia
- weight gain
- loss of muscle strength and endurance
- weakened bones
- slowed metabolism
- poor blood circulation
- weakened immune system
- hormonal imbalance
These problems can predispose older adults with dementia to chronic diseases such as:
- heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attack
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- metabolic syndrome
- type 2 diabetes
- falls and osteoporosis
- certain cancers, such as uterine, breast, and colon cancer
Planning and performing meaningful activities with a person with dementia can help them maintain their residual skills while providing an avenue for enjoyment, relaxation, and pleasure. It can also promote social interaction and encourage an emotional connection.
Performing activities they still have skills for can help a person with dementia reestablish old roles. For example, allowing them to contribute to the household can make them feel useful and promote responsibility.
Significant changes in emotions and behavior occur in the later stages of dementia. These include:
- problems with speaking and understanding language
- severe memory loss
- difficulty expressing needs
- impaired mobility
- severe memory loss
- loss of concentration and focus
- problems with swallowing
Those in the later stages of dementia often remain in their beds and cannot hold a conversation.
Despite these symptoms, many people may still respond to one-to-one attention through touch or eye contact. Being with the person — even just sitting beside them, being fully present, and responding to anything they do — is more than enough.
Some activities that a person can do with their loved one in the later stages of dementia include:
- stroking and massaging their hands
- offering stuffed toys or dolls to cuddle
- providing sensory books to see and feel
- petting and spending time with an animal
- offering physical contact, such as holding hands and brushing hair
- looking at family photo albums
- playing music and watching movies
- diffusing a favorite scent
- bird watching
- sitting outside for sunshine and fresh air
- reading books and magazines aloud
- wrapping or concealing items that they can unwrap
- doing folding activities
- tapping and patting to make rhythmic sounds
Certain activities can also engage a person’s senses and catch their attention. Examples include:
- placing bright-colored flowers in their room
- offering toys that wind up, stress balls for squeezing, and things with zippers or Velcro closures
- using aromatherapy oils
- giving cold instead of tepid drinks
- offering foods with stronger or sweeter flavors
- providing deep pressure touches
- singing, humming, or playing instruments
Keeping in touch with people, such as friends and family, or even building new relationships, is beneficial for the well-being of a person with dementia as well as their caregivers.
Group activities are ideal social engagements for people with dementia. Here are some ideas from the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS):
- singing and dancing groups
- drama groups
- book clubs
- drawing, painting, and sculpting classes
- local memory cafes, also called dementia cafes, to meet with other people with dementia and their caregivers
- games with large-print playing cards or bingo
- reminiscence work, where each person shares their personal life stories and experiences from the past using objects, photos, videos, and other media
Using technology to stay in touch
Technology can be a great way for people with dementia to stay in touch with family and friends and socialize online. Some ideas include:
- video conferencing using apps such as Zoom and Skype
- playing interactive games or puzzles with others using dedicated dementia apps
- watching videos on YouTube
Physical inactivity is one of the
A 2018 Korean study also found that physical activity slows down the progression of dementia severity, functional decline, and abnormal behavior in people with AD. It also lowers their risk of mortality.
Organizing a day out can be a good way to help a person with dementia stay active. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a variety of ideas for days out, including:
- feeding the birds
- raking the leaves
- walking or jogging through a park or courtyard
- sweeping the patio or porch
- sitting on the patio and drinking coffee or juice
- planting flowers
- watering the garden
- playing catch or tossing a ball
- going bird watching
- feeding the fish at the pond
- having an afternoon tea party or picnic
- flying a kite
- visiting a fruit farm
Community events and clubs
When looking for activity ideas, it can be worth checking what’s happening in the local community. Some ideas include:
- visiting a museum
- watching dogs at the dog park
- visiting a forest reserve, woodland, or beach
- interacting with babies, children, and animals
- visiting a favorite place around town, such as a restaurant, park, or shopping mall
- attending dementia-friendly cinema screenings
- streaming live theater productions
- visiting a sensory garden — a self-contained outdoor space that provides rich sensory experiences to visitors
- going to a local animal shelter or farm
- spending an afternoon in the park
- taking them for a drive
Sports and exercise
People with dementia can still take part in sports and leisure activities. Aside from being beneficial to a person’s physical and mental well-being, group exercise classes can be great for socializing, too.
Some examples include:
- dementia-friendly yoga, tai chi, swimming, walking, or gym sessions
- low impact exercises, such as swimming at a local senior center or gym
- water aerobics
Some people with dementia spend most of their time at home. However, they can remain active and productive at home through simple activities and other tasks.
Below are some ideas that caregivers can try with people with dementia.
Creative activities such as crafting can be fun and relaxing outlets for people with dementia. It’s important to focus less on the finished product and more on the joy of the activity itself.
Here are some examples:
- doing needlecraft, such as knitting, sewing, or crocheting
- doing photo crafts, such as making scrapbooks, collage boards, or photo magnets
- doing digital photography
- simple woodworking
- making DIY picture puzzles
- filling in coloring books
- painting and coloring by numbers
- making a family tree poster
- making a photo collage
- making greeting cards and postcards
As dementia progresses, people may start taking less care of themselves and their appearance. A self-care or pampering session may help them relax and feel more like themselves.
Some ideas include:
- brushing their hair
- giving them a manicure
- offering them a hand massage with lotion
Games, hobbies, and entertainment
People with dementia can participate in plenty of fun activities at home, such as playing games, completing puzzles, and watching movies.
Some ideas to consider include:
- encouraging a person to talk about their interests, memories, and subjects they enjoy
- creating a memory box, also called a rummage box, to help a person stay connected with their past hobbies, careers, or family memories
- cutting pictures from old magazines
- playing chess, checkers, dominoes, or board games such as Scrabble and Snakes and Ladders
- completing jigsaw puzzles
- playing sudoku and crossword puzzles
- playing memory card games
- creating a Spotify playlist of their favorite music
- looking at family photo albums or photos in magazines
- watching a favorite sport, show, or sitcom on television
- reading a book
- identifying states on a U.S. map or countries on a world map or globe
- reading a book or newspaper together or aloud
- watching family videos together
- inviting over a friend with a well-behaved pet
Doing simple household tasks can be an easy way to get people with dementia involved.
Some examples include:
- coin sorting
- untying knots
- preparing the afternoon tea or coffee
- supervised cooking or baking
- preparing meals, such as making sandwiches
- folding laundry
- pairing socks
- sweeping the floor
- setting the table
- sorting and putting away silverware
- folding napkins
- clearing the table
- washing and drying dishes
- watering plants
- sorting and matching up nuts and bolts
- tightening screws
Exercises at home
There are plenty of things people with dementia can do to stay fit and active at home. Here are some ideas:
- dancing to a piece of music from their time
- doing chair exercises
- performing chair yoga
- doing breathing exercises
- cycling indoors
Celebrate family holidays and traditions
Celebrating holiday traditions may bring back fond memories for people with dementia, and it can be a bonding activity for caregivers.
Some holiday activity ideas include:
- listening to holiday music
- making holiday desserts
- carving a pumpkin
- playing instruments and singing holiday songs
- watching holiday films
People with dementia and their family members will need more care as symptoms worsen over time and their health declines.
Many types of care are available, depending on the level of support a person needs:
- Adult day care centers and respite services: These can be ideal for short-term stays for people with dementia and can give caregivers a break also.
- Long-term care at home: This may range from general to professional care. Unpaid family members, licensed healthcare professionals, or live-in caregivers may provide care.
- Residential care: This includes assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
- Hospice services: Healthcare professionals can provide hospice services in the home, at a hospital, or at a hospice facility.
Various organizations offer further support for people with dementia and their family members. These include:
- community resources, such as the local chapter of the Area Agency on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association
- national nonprofit organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, National Task Group on Intellectual Disabilities and Dementia, Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, Lewy Body Dementia Association, and Lewy Body Dementia Resource Center
- federal government-funded resources, such as the
Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Centerand the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers
Participating in appropriate and meaningful activities can help a person with dementia achieve a better quality of life. Even the most simple self-care and household tasks can be meaningful, promote social interaction, and promote physical activity in a person with dementia.
There are many suitable activities for people with dementia. Caregivers can try to find out what their loved one with dementia enjoys to help them plan the ideal activities for them.
However, it is essential to talk with a person’s doctor and other health professionals like nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists to ensure that the activities are safe for their loved ones with dementia.