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Playing trivia, gardening, cooking are all great activities for those living with memory loss. Activities for dementia patients offer three key benefits. One, they are fun. Two, they give your loved one opportunities to connect with others. Three, the right kinds of activities can help them relax. That said, a lot of caregivers struggle to find the right activities. We’ve compiled a list of activities that you can engage in with your loved one. We’ve also provided some ideas to help you identify the best activities.
What Sorts of Activities are Ideal for Dementia Patients?
The perfect activity for a dementia patient is one that is mentally-engaging. However, it shouldn’t be too stimulating that it causes them emotional stress. In addition to providing mental stimulation, the activity should also cater to each individual’s needs, as no two people living with dementia experience the same exact challenges. While one may have problems walking, another might struggle to express themselves. Therefore, you should consider the specific problems they experience, their interests and dislikes.
Connecting to the Past
One common aspect among people experiencing memory loss, is that they are able to retain their long-term memory better than their short-term one. As such, it’s a good idea to tap into the experiences and things that they enjoyed in the past.
Before you decide that a particular activity is fit, ask yourself questions like these. Have they always loved listening to music? Did they always like household chores? Did they enjoy being outdoors or did they prefer to stay indoors?
By considering their past experiences, you are more likely to find an activity that they will enjoy in the present. As a guide, here are some different types of people and the corresponding activities that are likely to be the best for them.
The DIY Fixer
Has your loved one always enjoyed fixing things? Did people always refer to them as the go-to guy (or gal) when something broken needed a quick repair? If so, the ideal activities for this person are:
- Sorting through or matching nuts and bolts
- Tightening screws in gadgets or wooden pieces
- Connecting small-sized PVC pipes together
- Playing board games that incorporate “to do” things
What’s important here is to choose an activity that feels familiar, preferably one that engages their “handy” skills.
For an individual who loved taking care of their home, you should consider engaging them in simple household chores. For instance, you can give them a cloth and ask them to dust furniture, handrails or wipe the table. Alternatively, give them a basket with clothes that need to be folded.
However, be sure to not overwhelm them with work. What matters here is helping them feel confident about their ability to accomplish something. So regardless of how the simple the task is, it will go a long way to improve their quality of life and sense of contribution.
The Music Lover
If the person with dementia has always had a passion for music, then offer them music-related opportunities. People in early stages of dementia are still able to sing in a choir or play an instrument.
This is one aspect that a lot of caregivers get wrong. They assume that because their loved one has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, then their talents have automatically diminished. But this is far from the truth. Hand them a guitar and you’ll see how well they’ll play it. For those who prefer to listen to music as opposed to performing it, make recordings of their favorite artists for them to enjoy.
Music impacts a different part of the brain, and it’s particularly beneficial for aggressive dementia patients. If your loved one is in a grumpy mood, playing their favorite song can ease them into a better mood or a gentle slumber.
Your grandfather who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease struggles to express himself. You know this because even after cooking his favorite dish, he doesn’t say much at all; let alone “thank you”. But when your sister brings her two-year old one afternoon, your grandpa lights up like never before. Where before his speech was slurred, he could speak clear and full sentences!
Turns out, children have a significant positive impact on older adults, particularly those living with dementia. People experiencing memory loss interact better and are more willing to try out new activities when there are kids around. This is why some memory care facilities are implementing programs where their patients and young children interact on a regular basis. They might solve jigsaw puzzles together, build towers out of blocks or even read together.
Intergenerational interactions benefit both seniors and children. Often, the older adult gets to enjoy the familiar role of caregiving. It gives them a sense of purpose. Children, on their part, benefit from engaging with different people and have the opportunity to learn things they may not otherwise. However, because both the person with memory loss and kids are unpredictable, such activities should be monitored closely.
The Car Lover
The person you are caring for had a passion for cars, it’s likely that they’ll enjoy looking at images of old cars or helping you wash your car. They could also enjoy tinkering with small engine parts.
If they lose interest with these activities, you can take them to car events. Some states organize shows where classic vintage cars are displayed or driven down a road. Anytime there is such an event, consider taking your loved one along. The Annual Salute to Veterans Car & Motorcycle Show that is organized every year in Hillsboro, Oregon, is a good example of an auto event.
The Animal Lover
For those who are fond of pets, great activities include taking a pet for a walk or brushing a pet’s hair. However, there are instances where the dementia patients are not capable of doing participating in these activities. In these cases, try putting a bird or two in a cage or getting them an aquarium to watch.
Pet therapy has proven to be very beneficial for people with dementia. You will find that those in the middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s feel comforted when they hold a kitten or when they stroke the pet’s fur.
Is your loved one an accomplished gardener? If they are, there are several activities that they will be capable of, even with dementia. These include planting seeds, watering the plants and watching them grow. He or she is also likely to enjoy arranging flowers or harvesting vegetables. Some facilities have raised gardens, which can be easily accessed by those with physical limitations.
Nonetheless, people with dementia should be closely monitored when doing such activities. To ensure safety, they should not be allowed to handle sharp gardening tools. Also, they shouldn’t be gardening during the hottest times of the day.
Art is one of the most recommended activities for people living with dementia.
Why? Because it’s the one avenue that allows these individuals to express themselves freely. People experiencing dementia may not be able to open up to their physicians, caregivers or even their family members. But when given an opportunity to paint, draw or create other forms of art, they are able use these platforms to share their thoughts, emotions and memories. Through art therapy, people living with dementia are able to reduce their anxiety. Art also fosters a sense of mastery or control in the person creating it.
So, which are the best art-related activities for dementia patients? Buying them adult coloring books for them to color is one way. You can also provide them with clay and watch how they mold things. It could also project-based art. For instance, if you had been planning to paint your bedroom wall, you can ask them to help you.
How to Choose Activities for People with Dementia
There are several things you should keep in mind when choosing an activity for one with dementia.
- Keep the person’s skills and abilities in mind –
As we mentioned earlier, you should always try to connect the activity to the individual’s ability or skill. For instance, a person with dementia will still have the ability to play songs that they learned on the piano years ago. Integrate such activities into their daily routines.
- Pay key attention to what they enjoy –
Give priority to those activities that make the dementia patient happy. Similarly, you should identify and avoid those things that make them distracted and irritable. As an example, if they like watching movies, then look for sitcoms, comedies and musicals that can entertain them. Avoid those movies that tend to have complicated or depressing plots.
- Determine whether the individual likes structured activities –
Do they like setting the table before dinner? Or do they always wash dishes in the evening? If they do, it would be a good idea to schedule the activities as part of their daily routine.
- Consider their physical limitations –
Another thing you shouldn’t neglect is the individual’s physical capabilities. For instance, if they cannot see clearly, then you shouldn’t pick activities that strain their eyes. Similarly, if they can’t perform simple movements, then you shouldn’t expect them to take long walks or dance.
- Prioritize enjoyment over achievement –
This is another point we’d like to emphasize. Essentially, the reason for dementia patients to participate in these activities is not so much that they succeed or fail in them, but rather that they derive fun and get an opportunity to express themselves.
- Encourage involvement in their daily routine –
The ideal activities for people with dementia are those that foster a sense of purpose and belonging. Or simply put, those activities that make them feel valued. Simple chores like setting the table, folding clothes or sweeping floors can provide a sense of accomplishment.
- Timing is key –
A caregiver may have more success if he schedules the activity at a particular time. For instance, your loved one will be more willing to bathe and dress on his own in the morning.
What Can Caregivers Do to Encourage People with Dementia to Participate in Activities?
Yes, your loved one likely really wants to take part in a given activity. But if you don’t encourage and support them, they might never find the confidence to partake in it.
As a caregiver, you need to help the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s get started on an activity. How do you achieve this? You can organize the event or be the first one to participate in the activity. For instance, if your loved one had a passion for painting, you can paint something simple and ask them to try painting as well. Ideally, provide easy-to-follow steps and assess how the individual responds.
Another tip for caregivers is to focus more on the process instead of results. Here’s the deal: it doesn’t matter how well the clothes were folded or how sparkly the room looks. What matters is that the individual made effort to fold clothes and sweep the floor. And in the process, they got to spend time with their loved ones as opposed to staying isolated and depressed.
Caregivers for dementia patients need to be flexible. If someone insists that they don’t want to do something, then they shouldn’t be forced any further. Perhaps the event triggers a traumatic event that happened in the past. Follow the lead of your loved one.
Activities for people with dementia are not that difficult to find. All you have to do is determine what activity can contribute to their well-being. You should also establish whether your loved one will enjoy taking part in it and how familiar the activity feels to them.
— Harmony Orenco Living | 188 NE 77th Ave, Hillsboro, OR 97124