If a loved one or someone that you care for suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll already be aware of the fact that life isn’t easy.
This increasingly common disease affects certain areas of the brain and causes problems in everyday life in terms of memory, thought processes and behaviors.
As a progressive disease, once diagnosed and left untreated, the condition can worsen, sometimes quite rapidly, and can result in the seniors unable to hold a conversation, know where they are, or a complete lack of engagement in their environment.
By being proactive and engaging these individuals in activities, not only can you improve their quality of life, many studies suggest you can even help halt the worsening of these symptoms. In some cases, you may even be able to make improvements to their condition.
This is because you’ll choose certain activities which have been designed or are renowned for their mentally stimulating properties. Just as exercise strengthens muscles over time, certain activities can improve or maintain specific areas of the brain.
With regular and consistent engagement, whether you’re planning an activity with an individual or a group of people, these benefits can create dramatic positive change for these seniors.
In this article we cover you need to know when it comes to organizing and choosing the right activities for a dementia patient or someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, giving you a complete resource of knowledge that can result in the best response and the maximum amount of benefits.
Different Kinds of Activities
While some of our suggested activities include at least some degree of light physical exercise, the focus of this article lies on mental stimulation.
There are three main types of activity you can engage in;
- Sensory activities
- Memory loss support activities
- Purposeful/Meaningful activities
These are activities where any of the five senses (taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing) are used and stimulated. In short, this is the name given to any activity where an individual will be engaged with what they are doing, resulting in a strengthening of neural pathways.
Over time, this can help to halt or reduce the issues that are associated with dementia, ultimately providing the individual with more freedom, ability, and opportunities to do more with their lives, to maintain their status of health, and improve their overall happiness and general well-being.
Memory Loss Support Activities
As the title suggests, these are activities which can be used to help improve and reduce the effects of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Memory is one of the most commonly affected areas of the brain, and this can result in an individual forgetting people, things, their past and even more recent events.
By engaging in memory loss support activities, you can help to maintain the memory functions of an individual’s brain. This can proactively slow down the loss of their mental abilities with the aim of decreasing the effect of dementia on their everyday lives and capabilities.
These are activities that are used to give a dementia patient a sense of purpose, and the sense of achievement when they have completed something.
Accomplishment is one of the biggest driving forces for happiness and overall well-being, and a dementia patient is no exception.
By partaking in purposeful activities, you can help to provide them with the feelings of reward that come from completing certain tasks and activities. This is similar to how you would feel job satisfaction during your working life. With a sense of accomplishment and achievement, you can actively improve happiness and build confidence and self-esteem.
How to Engage a Dementia Patient in an Activity?
Setting up and organizing an activity is one thing.
Getting a dementia patient to actually partake in the activity is another story.
Patients suffering from dementia can quickly become distressed and panicked in new environments and confusion can take over which only leads to more stress for the individual.
As a loved one or (long-term) carer, there are many approaches you can take when it comes to engaging the individual in the activity. With regular practice and mental improvements formed from the activities, it should get easier over time.
For the first couple of times, here’s what often helps;
Set Up the Surroundings
Whether you’re planning on setting up your activities indoors or outdoors, it’s important that you pay attention to the environment to make sure it’s perfect.
You don’t want the area to be overly stimulating or have many distractions, such as the radio or television on.
You may also want to use a dedicated room.
If it’s the same space every time you do the same activity, the patient can form a mental association with the room. Make sure there’s a non-intimidating number of people as well.
Be Calm, Collected and Understanding
When you’re trying something new with a dementia patient, it can be scary and stressful for everybody involved. The main thing you want to focus on is the comfort and happiness of the patient themselves.
You need to make sure you’re calm and slow when introducing new activities. If it doesn’t work out, there’s no reason you can’t give it another try at a later date.
Be Supportive and Flexible
As a loved one or carer in an assisted living facility, there might be a special bond between you and your patient.
When trying something new, it’s vital you emphasize this trust and show them that you’re there to support them.
As mentioned above, take things slow and steady and make sure that you’re listening to what your patient or family member has to say. Keep talking to them consistently, with positive comments saying how the activity is going to be fun. Remember to smile and make eye contact to instill those feelings of trust further.
Be Open to Change
What activity works and is enjoyed by one patient may not necessarily work for another.
Remember that this is a process of trial and error and that it might take a few tries to find an activity your patient really enjoys.
Whatever you’re organizing, be prepared to make subtle changes, so they work for you and your patients. Try to keep things as simple as possible and always evaluate afterward how you think things went and what you can do to improve them next time.
Activities for Dementia Patients
To help you get started when it comes to finding appropriate activities, here is a list of some that have been proven to be well received. We broke them down into ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’ categories, and indicated the types of benefits they offer.
NOTE: It’s important to make sure that the patient is safe while they are partaking in any of the activities listed below. Each individual has different mental and physical capabilities which is why it’s so important for you to evaluate what you’re doing and who with beforehand.
Reading Sessions (Memory/Purposeful)
Reading is one of the best activities you can do in any kind of weather, no matter if you are in a hospital, in a memory care facility or at home. Whether you’re reading a book to your dementia patient, whatever kind of book that may be, depending on their mental capability, or let them read themselves.
You can also try getting them into specific blogs for seniors, or other forms of internet content they may find engaging. It might be tough to teach them how to use a computer or even a smartphone, but if you are there to help it’s definitely worth a try.
If you’re trying to get your patient to read themselves, adapt the level of reading skill required to their mental capability. In some cases, it’s a good idea to start with books containing images only.
This activity is great for stimulating the mind and may even jog memory functions.
Jigsaw Puzzles (Sensory/Purposeful)
Another brain stimulating activity is completing a jigsaw puzzle.
They are great because there are many difficulty levels available from child sets to complicated designs with tens of thousands of pieces. This makes it easy for you to find one that suits your individual patients.
Jigsaws are a great group activity for dementia patients, which means you can introduce the social aspects, perhaps with other patients or loved ones.
Jigsaws are highly visual activities and the sense of achievement once completing one is a great way to boost overall happiness, and therefore their sense of well-being. They have proven to be one of the best brain games for seniors and can develop into a long-term hobby.
Tidying Up the Room (Purposeful)
Depending on the physical capabilities of your dementia patient, this is a great way to create a sense of purpose. It doesn’t matter if this is an activity for nursing home residents or carried out in the individual’s own home.
You’ll need to be supportive and careful, but making a patient feel like they’re helping with day-to-day life is usually a great idea. The sense of reward that comes from looking back and seeing what they accomplished, even if it’s only a clean floor, is a great way of boosting happiness and self-esteem.
There are countless options here you can give a try. The patient can assist you wiping down surfaces, folding laundry or any other general maintenance activities that help feel appreciated and needed where they’re living.
Arts & Crafts (Sensory/Memory/Purposeful)
There are arts and crafts for seniors and dementia patients, regardless of what physical and mental abilities they have.
You could try making greetings cards for their loved ones on special occasions like Christmas or birthdays, which is a great way to enhance their memory functions.
Whether you’re sewing, drawing, coloring or anything in between, arts and crafts are fantastic sensory activities. This is because they’ll be touching, smelling and playing with all kinds of materials and equipment which is sure to help stimulate their neural pathways.
Some arts and crafts you can get involved in include;
- Making greetings cards
- Making seasonal decorations
- Making family tree posters (great for memory)
- Sewing activities
Listening to Old Songs (Sensory/Memory)
This is an activity that everybody can get involved in. By playing music, you can have people singing together or dancing along, even if they don’t know the words. If you want to take things one step further, you may even consider investing in a karaoke machine.
It’s a great idea to play songs that your patients used to know, which can exercise certain memory pathways that can be very beneficial.
You can also try encouraging them to dance which in combination offers even more benefits.
Gardening is an excellent therapeutic activity for dementia patients because there are so many variations of things to do that can suit their mental and physical capabilities. This can span anything from helping to move things, raking the lawn, planting new plants or weeding.
This kind of hands-on approach is a fantastic sensory experience, in addition to all the smells and sounds that come with being in the garden.
Being outside gardening may even invoke certain memories. There is a huge sense of purpose and accomplishment that comes from gardening.
Going for a Walk (Sensory/Memory)
When planning a walk, it’s especially important to consider the mental and physical capabilities of your patients beforehand. In most cases, you’ll want to walk the route first to make sure that it’s safe. Going for a walk is a fantastic sensory activity which can and should be carried out on the regular in long-term care, if possible.
Sights, sounds and smells that come from being outside and going to a new place is something almost every patient loves.
If you’re planning on keeping several appropriate routes, this can be a great way to test and enhance your patient’s memory. For example, you can ask them which way to go next.
If there is a couple you’re caring for, or the individual is on a “senior date“, this can be a great activity for them both to enjoy together.
Planting Trees and Plants (Sensory/Memory/Purposeful)
You can do this as a one-on-one with a patient, or as a group activity, which adds the social aspect.
Planting a tree can be symbolic of somebody’s life and is a great way to give them an association point because you can remind them they planted it every time they see it.
The actual activity of planting the tree or plants in the first place is a sensory activity in the form of touch, smells, and sight, similar to gardening.
The act of planting a tree that could also be there for hundreds of years for people to enjoy has a purposeful legacy benefit attached to it.
Fishing is an activity which is peaceful, relaxing and full of purpose with the added opportunity to feel a huge sense of reward, as well as a boost in their confidence and self-esteem.
Travel to a lake, pond, the sea or a creek in your local area, just sit back, look at the scenery, chat and wait for fish to come.
Just the act of being outdoors is a great way to stimulate your patient’s senses, and the reward from catching a fish is sure to put a smile on their faces.
You shouldn’t focus too much on catching a fish and rather on the experience itself.
In some cases, fishing can bring back memories when the patient may have fished during their younger years.
Petting Animals (Sensory/Memory/Purposeful)
While this can be a lot to organize and manage, if done properly, it’s something definitely worth the effort.
Introduce a pet at home, have someone with an animal come to visit their home or nursing home, or take your long-term care patients for a day out, if your senior loves dogs, it’s an almost guaranteed smile on their face.
If you care for a senior who already has a dog, you should encourage them to interact with it on the regular.
Humans are able to connect with pets and animals far easier than they do among each other, and this doesn’t change with age.
There is a huge amount of sensory stimulation to be had by petting an animal, and if you are introducing a pet to the nursing home, looking after one can bring a great feeling of being needed.
If your patient has had a pet or animal during their lifetime, exposing them to the same breed of animal can trigger memories, as will the function of remembering an animal or pet’s name.
Isabella works in senior care and loves doing so. With over 10 years of experience in the field she is a reliable source for everything around day care and the senior lifestyle in general. In her free time she enjoys playing volleyball and artistic painting.