If you’re a caregiver for a loved one with dementia, you are not alone. In 2019, more than 16 million family members and friends were caring for a loved one with dementia. Out of that number, about 22% care for a patient with Alzheimer's alone, just one of several types of dementia.
Unfortunately, dementia is irreversible, but that shouldn’t stop you and your loved one from spending quality time with one another! Physically engaging and creative activities will not only bring pleasure to your loved one, but are also great ways to improve memory and give them a sense of independence and achievement.
Choosing the Right Activities For Your Loved One with Dementia
When you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, identifying exactly what activities are right for them is important so you can create a positive experience while reducing their problematic behaviors and boredom while keeping them safe.
You need to consider several factors, such as if they are easily agitated or stressed, or at risk for falls. Issues like these will affect how they respond to an activity.
For instance, if your loved one is in pain and has trouble walking, then dancing is probably out of the question. But activities such as painting or coloring would be safer and better alternatives.
You also need to consider the environment where these activities will be taking place. If the room is over-stimulating, your loved one may become stressed. Try to reduce noise and clutter and turn off distractions, such as the TV.
Keep their past favorite hobbies in mind. For instance, if Mom was an avid singer for years, it may be possible to engage her by playing her favorite songs again. Though it may not be possible for her to sing as she once did, it will probably be an activity she’ll love. Remember: focus on enjoyment, not achievement.
Why Activities for People with Dementia are Important
Being physically active may offer many health benefits. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, physical activities can increase blood flow to the brain and are great ways to improve symptoms of depression, slow a decline in cognitive abilities, and reduce stress. Some evidence also suggests that exercise may benefit brain cells and protect brain health. Besides offering health benefits, providing engaging physical activities for your loved one can also help increase their sense of independence and accomplishment.
Although there is no cure to the cognitive decline associated with dementia, some studies have shown that older adults' memory improves with creative activities. Research referenced by the National Institute on Aging has demonstrated that comprehension, creativity, and problem solving abilities improved after an engaging activity. Studies also show that engaging in hobbies you enjoy helps reduce depression and preserve memory.
People with dementia can struggle with boredom and depression, but performing stimulating activities and being exposed to new information will help them feel productive. And, just as importantly, meaningful activities can be great opportunities to spend time with your loved one.
Suggested Activities for People with Dementia.
There are plenty of stimulating and fun activities out there, but here a few suggestions of ways to engage your loved one. Remember - these activities for seniors with dementia are not only supposed to be enjoyable for them, but for you too! If your loved one initially resists the activity, try again later or ask them if there is anything you can change to make the activity more enjoyable.
Arts & Crafts
Creative art projects are a fun way for your loved one to express themselves and can be done virtually anywhere, whether in a backyard or the living room. Fun arts and crafts options include non-toxic clay, watercolor painting, sewing, and more. You can make art projects in a directed way, such as painting a birdhouse, or in a non-directed way that lets them have the independence to decide how to use the clay or paint.
Clay and paint activities are good activities for tactile stimulation and can occupy an entire day, or even multiple days. If you’re looking for activities for you to bond with your loved one, art activities are a great way to do so; you can use these activities to start conversations or get involved by helping them create their flower vase or painting.
Games are great activities for seniors with dementia who enjoyed them in the past. Depending on the extent of their dementia, some people are still very capable of crossword puzzles and word searches. Simple jigsaw puzzles are also a good way to engage your loved one’s problem-solving skills. Checkers and dominos are also great simple games both of you can enjoy.
Spending time in the kitchen is a good way to interact with loved ones and also to encourage healthy eating. As long as you have access to a kitchen, preparing and cooking food should be an easy opportunity to spend time together and follow simple recipes.
Just remember to prioritize safety; only take out the ingredients you’ll be using to avoid any confusion and monitor the stove burners. With just a few simple, step-by-step instructions, most seniors with dementia can be a great help in the kitchen.
Musical activities for people with dementia are great, stimulating options, especially if your loved one was a former musician or singer. If they used to sing, encourage singing by playing their favorite songs. If they used to play an instrument that you know how to play, such as piano, you can teach them simple songs or they may still remember their favorite pieces.
The great outdoors can make for some great activities for both caregivers and seniors with dementia while providing an opportunity for healthy physical exercise. Easy hikes and walks, bird-watching, and bird or fish feeding are all activities that allow your loved one to be immersed in nature and be active. Taking a walk, having a picnic on the beach, or dog watching at the park are other good ways to experience the outdoors.
If you have a personal or community garden, gardening can be a fulfilling experience. Your loved one can enjoy planting seeds and flowers, weeding the garden, and picking vegetables.
Dementia does not mean your loved one cannot still enjoy their favorite activities. With some adjustments, you can find great activities for people with dementia that can help their memory, increase their physical activity, and provide enjoyable and stimulating experiences. While it may take some extra work and creativity to find activities that will suit your loved one, all your effort will be worth it when you create experiences that you both love doing together.