Dementia-related activities

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Dementia-related Activities

The following material (copyright is divided into two parts:

Activities to do with seniors who have dementia; and,

How to recognize the stages of dementia.

 Activities To Do With Seniors Who Have Dementia

Written by writer Asha Grinnell 

For seniors coping with dementia, one of the greatest frustrations is the inability to do those things they once loved. Activities and hobbies that used to be second nature might start to feel fuzzy or distant. This harsh reality can be discouraging for people suffering from dementia, as well as their friends or loved ones who are trying to engage them. The biggest goal when planning any type of activity for seniors with dementia is to make them feel successful. It doesn’t matter if they play the game right or if the activity is even completed, the important thing is that they have fun.


Utilizng the 5 Senses

Activities that center on the five senses are very important. Loved ones might not remember how to bake their famous cookies, but when presented with a lump of dough, it might be surprising at how quickly they start rolling it out, just like they used to. Muscles tend to remember things the mind has forgotten.

Here are some helpful ideas for creative engagement for seniors battling dementia.


The Gift of Taste

Cooking or baking can evoke so many memories and the activity opportunities are endless.  Here are a few ideas that will help get started planning a fun, flavor-filled experience for seniors with dementia:

  • Prepare a chocolate tasting
  • Sample different flavors of tea
  • Try tasting familiar holiday treats (candy corn, candy canes, peeps, Hersey’s kisses, etc.)
  • Taste different flavors of ice cream
  • Dip pretzels in various sauces (honey-mustard, spicy-ranch, BBQ sauce, etc.)
  • Prepare a fruit salad together and steal bites
  • String cranberries or popcorn for an outdoor Christmas tree
  • Clean out a pumpkin, roast the seeds, and have fun carving

Food can bring people together, as many experiences revolve around meals: holidays, birthdays, church potlucks, summer barbecues, weddings, etc. This activity is so much more than just the tasting; it is about the stories, laughter and fun shared along the way.


The Gift of Sound

Fun Activities for people who with DementiaMusic highlights many significant moments in life. During birthday celebrations people sing around candlelit cake, they hug as they watch couples sway to their “first dance” and during the holidays a familiar carol can all but melt our hearts. These are simple snapshots of how music can draw out reminders of days gone by.

Here are a few ways one can engage a loved one or friend through music:

  • Sing beloved Christmas carols, hymns, or favorite songs together
  • Listen to music that means something to a loved one
  • Attend a local concert
  • Play the piano together
  • Watch a concert on video
  • Play “Name That Tune”


The Gift of Smell

Our senses have the ability to transport us to different places. The smell of fresh flowers might remind us of springtime in the country or a blast of spruce might tug at memories of childhood Christmases long gone. Using the gift of smell to engage someone with dementia is a wonderful activity, and there are so many different things to try.

Here are a few ideas for planning a scent driven activity:

  • Pick up a bundle of fragrant fresh flowers
  • Sample different perfumes
  • Make lavender sachets
  • Brew mulling spices and just let the house smell of holiday cheer
  • Peel mandarin oranges together


The Gift of Touch

Humans crave touch. Just as little babies thrive and respond to being held, as people age, their need for touch still remains. Something about a warm hand that is wanting to be held can make a huge difference on a rough day.

Here are some creative ways to incorporate touch into a friend or loved ones daily routine:

  • Plan a spa day and do manicures or pedicures
  • Give your loved one or friend a back massage
  • Find out if there are any therapy pets in your area and schedule a visit
  • Fold warm laundry together
  • Knead dough and cut out cookies
  • Weed the garden
  • Brush your loved one’s or friend’s hair


The Gift of Seeing

Visual stimuli can be a wonderful activity for someone who is suffering from dementia, especially if they are in a more advanced stage. Sometimes being able to see something beautiful can transform a difficult day. Create a space for a loved one that is colorful and interesting without being too busy. Don’t bombard their senses with too many things at once. Try to focus on one bold sight at a time.

Here are some ideas to help get things started:

  • Bring in a stack of world travel postcards and dialogue about sightseeing
  • Collect different colored autumn leaves together
  • Wash fresh fruit together
  • Look through old photographs, newspapers, or magazines
  • Watch an old Hollywood classic
  • Create a still life and paint with water colors
  • Clip coupons
  • Dye Easter eggs

 Get Moving

Get Moving with DementiaResearch from the Mayo Clinic suggests that physical exercise can provide benefits to those coping with dementia. As dementia progresses, it can affect people differently, but one major side effect can be depression. Exercise not only boosts the mood, but it also help people in a variety of other ways:

  • Gain strength
  • Improve flexibility
  • Enhance balance
  • Promote relaxation
  • Maintain cardiovascular health

When someone is battling with dementia, be creative in your approach to physical fitness. To incorporate exercise into a loved one’s routine, it may be difficult with a standard workout program. Instead, try using daily activities to get loved ones moving. Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter how ordinary the activity may seem. The goal is to get the friend or loved one participating in some type of physical movement. Here are some out-of-the-box ideas for encouraging fitness for seniors with dementia:

  • Feed the birds together
  • Water plants
  • Hang clothes up
  • Wash dishes
  • Rock baby dolls
  • Turn on the music and dance
  • Ride a tandem bicycle
  • Unload the dishwasher
  • Dust furniture
  • Play horseshoes

 Set the Stage

For someone who is struggling with dementia, time and place is everything. There are some basic things that can do to create an environment where activities may be better received. Here are some ways to set the stage for success:

  • Provide substantial lighting
  • Avoid cluttered or busy spaces (this can be distracting or confusing)
  • Pick a time when the friend or loved one isn’t tired or sun-downing
  • Make sure the loved one is well hydrated
  • Allow plenty of time
  • Keep things simple and well suited to to loved one’s stage of dementia

 Beyond the Senses

When planning an activity for someone who is coping with dementia, the plan must remain dynamic. It is very unlikely to finish what is started or that it will turn out exactly as planned. That is why the goal is never the actual activity. The true activity is hearing loves ones laugh, watching them smile and knowing that for a moment they are happy. Someone who is struggling with dementia not only can change on a day-to-day basis, but on a moment-to-moment basis. To remain encouraged, keep an open mind and be willing to try new things.

 Dementia Resources

Here are some helpful resources regarding dementia:

Alzheimer’s & Dementia Resource Center
1506 Lake Highland Drive
Orlando, FL 32803

Family Caregiver Alliance
785 Market Street
Suite 750
San Francisco, CA 94103

Alzheimer’s Association
225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17
Chicago, IL 60601-7633

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
322 8th Ave., 7th Fl.
New York, NY 10001

Alzheimer’s Society British Columbia
#300-828 West 8th  Avenue
Vancouver, B.C. V5Z 1E2



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