Dementia is a complex disease that affects the mind and body. It robs people of their memories, sense of self, and eventually life. However, there is still hope for those with dementia through various therapies.
Many activities can help improve the quality of life for those with dementia: from cognitive exercises like reading or puzzles to sensory exercises like knitting or crafts. People with dementia need as much stimulation as anyone else for both therapeutic purposes and improving their quality of life.
We’ve put together a great list of activities you can perform with people who have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia that can be as fun as they are beneficial.
One form of therapy that can be really profound is learning what your patient or loved one loved to do and capitalize on that. For example, if your grandmother with Alzheimer’s used to be in the choir, play her some music from her era.
Music is a great way to connect with someone who has dementia. It can evoke memories and feelings and provide a sense of comfort. Many studies support the use of music as therapy for those with dementia.
There are two main ways to use music in this situation: playing or listening. If you’re playing music, try to find popular songs during your loved one’s formative years. If they’re older, you can play music from their era or even current tunes that remind them of things like the first time they heard a favorite song on the radio. Try putting a small instrument in their hands, maybe one they have played.
You can also play music via the radio, a smartphone, or a CD player. Spotify and Youtube have endless amounts of music from all genres and time periods available for free. Music can be one of the most beneficial and effective forms of therapy for dementia patients, plus it’s just fun to enjoy something together.
Creating art can be a great way to work on both mental and physical therapy. Getting out some paper and crayons or paint can be a very familiar task that almost anyone can pick up, even those with memory issues. They may even pick up that paintbrush and know exactly what to do.
Did your loved ones once love to crochet or knit before the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s? Try placing their knitting needles and ball of yarn in their hands—it might just trigger a memory or even muscle memory. Yes, muscle memory is a real thing , and we have marveled at its effectiveness in memory patients.
Find old magazines with their favorite activities to give them a sense of purpose. Reading the magazine, looking at pictures, and even holding it can bring back fond memories. Or you can even put together collages by having them safely cut or rip out their favorite images and using a glue stick to paste them together. This can be a very stimulating mental and physical therapy activity to do together!
Was grandpa a big Yankees fan back in the day? Youtube is bountiful with old baseball and sports clips that you can reminisce about together and bring back some beautiful memories. Try decorating their room with baseball memorabilia or whatever sport they love.
The brain is an amazing thing, and sadly when dementia sets in, it becomes difficult for those with it to remember their past lives. But things like smells, sounds, stories, and visualizations can help trigger those lost memories. Reintroducing those triggers or just talking with them can help unlock so many things, boost their mood, and be very therapeutic.
If you’re lucky enough to have wedding videos or other videos of your loved ones before dementia, watching those together can be an enjoyable way to bond and help them remember things about their lives that they have trouble with. Sometimes people with dementia will even just awe at a wedding video and say how beautiful the people in the video are, despite not knowing it’s themselves. Either way, it sparks joy in them.
Don’t have videos? That’s just fine—break out the photo albums and scrapbooks. Like with videos, looking through pictures together can bring back all sorts of memories.
People with dementia commonly suffer from depression because they don’t know what is going on around them, even forgetting that their loved ones are still there for them. Cooking or baking together can be one of the most therapeutic things to do together, plus allow you to make some old favorite recipes that they’ll really enjoy. Or you can bake their favorite dessert or treat that they can smell and taste and have those memories rush back.
For those patients with Alzheimer’s who have lost their pets, getting a toy version of that pet can be very therapeutic. It allows them to still have that companionship they miss and brings back happy memories. Companies like Cuddle Clones can actually take a photo of a pet and turn it into an identical stuffed animal.
What was grandma’s favorite movie? Chances are you can find it on Netflix or Amazon Prime and watch it together. Not only will they enjoy the movie, but they might also remember things about it that they forgot. The same goes for TV shows—watch an episode or two of their favorite show from when they were younger.
So much of dementia is taking away cognitive function in the brain, which makes for poor memory and day-to-day tasks that many of us take for granted.
Things like brushing your teeth, getting dressed, or even turning a doorknob can become arduous if not impossible for elderly dementia patients. Luckily, there are some ways to incorporate physical therapy into fun games or puzzles that can be enjoyed while benefiting the patient.
One classic task that can help with dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills is stacking cups or blocks. You can make it as simple or challenging as you want by using different size cups/blocks and varying the distance between them.
Another activity that can help with dexterity is folding laundry or socks. This task requires fine motor skills, which are often severely impaired in dementia patients, but it also helps boost their mood and gives them a sense of purpose while allowing them to clean their own space and feel accomplished.
Puzzles are a fantastic way to work on cognitive skills and hand-eye coordination. Try finding jigsaw puzzles with larger, more simple pieces to put together.
Not only do puzzles have cognitive benefits, but they’re also great for working on those fine motor skills! And the feeling of accomplishment from finishing a puzzle is sure to make you feel good too. Stick with wood or cardboard rather than plastic, as the latter can be hard to grip and pick up.
If your loved one has arthritis on top of everything else, it can be tough to want or be able to pick things up or do basic motor skills. Scheduling therapeutic hand massages can help them relax, alleviate anxiety, and assist in pain management.
Singing and playing instruments is a great way to work on cognitive skills, memory, and hand-eye coordination. It’s also a really fun way for both you and your loved one to bond!
Fidget toys are a relatively new thing, mainly among children and pre-teens. But fidget toys can also be a great tool for memory care facilities to use for dexterity therapy. The fidget toys called “pop-its” are like plastic bubble wrap that require users to push a small round “bubble” in varying patterns and colors. It is fun and intended to alleviate anxiety in young children and can be just as beneficial for elderly folks with anxiety.
Games and puzzles intended for toddlers can act as a great cognitive tool for patients with dementia just based on their simplicity and ease of use.
Many memory games require the user to find matching cards or blocks, which can be challenging for those with severe dementia. Still, patients with dementia can benefit significantly from such games early on. Simple ones like wooden jigsaws are fun and engaging while working on cognitive skills like problem-solving.
There are numerous types of brain games and puzzles via apps or the internet that can be printed out or used through a computer or smart device to help work the brain every day. The more we use our brains, the better we feel and the faster we think and process things.
Physically feeling textures and fabrics can directly link to memories and mood for people with dementia. Caregivers can put together a fun sensory box with furs, textiles, and different toys or items that feel good to the touch and make these patients feel good.
Including soft textures in a dementia patient’s living space can help them feel calm and safe. Often they will become agitated when their environment is too loud, bright, or chaotic. Putting some soft items into their room- like a thick rug, cozy blanket, or even just some plants- can make all the difference.
Taking a walk outside for those with dementia is hugely beneficial to their physical and mental health. A daily routine of walking around the facility or neighborhood can help them feel good about themselves and stay healthy.
The list goes on for both reminiscent and therapeutic activities for people with dementia. But no matter what you do, make sure it’s something that won’t trigger anxiety, fear, or pain for them.
Always take things slow and make sure they are engaging in the activity; otherwise, you can quickly pivot if you notice them getting agitated or confused. The key is consistency and patience.
And if you’re looking for an environment that facilitates therapy of all forms for dementia patients, reach out to Sunflower Communities today. Our calendar is full of activities and memory care for residents to ensure they get the attention and treatment they need. Contact us here to get started !