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Fun Activities for Seniors Living with Dementia

Elderly woman doing arts and crafts with her caregiver

For people living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, the right activities are crucial to their continued well-being and quality of life. Finding enjoyable activities for seniors with dementia offers benefits such as cognitive stimulation, the opportunity to connect with others, comfort, relaxation, and more. The structure and routine of engaging in the right dementia-friendly activities can have a calming effect that helps maintain cognitive function and a sense of security. Such activities can also provide a source of focus leading to feelings of productivity.


Not every suggestion on this list of activities for people with dementia will be appropriate for all seniors living with memory loss, but many of them will, and all are worth a try. Remember to be mindful of the current state of your loved one’s abilities — don’t attempt an activity you feel certain will be too challenging. And be sensitive to the time of day and your loved one’s state of mind before introducing any activity.  


Make game time fun time

Simple board games with little or no element of competition can be a fun, visually stimulating pastime that helps boost confidence. Look for games for ages 4 to 6, like Snakes and Ladders. Pictionary can be another good option for loved ones in the early stages of dementia.

You also might try completing a jigsaw puzzle together. This mentally stimulating activity opens the door to conversation and emotional connection. You can work on it for as long as it feels appropriate, and even continue into the next day.


Crosswords are also good for brain health, putting the focus on words, language, and thought. Bingo may seem simplistic, but it’s a favorite among people living with Alzheimer’s and has been shown to have positive effects.


Card matching games are also good exercise for the memory. They typically involve a set of cards flipped with the back side facing up. The player flips over two cards at a time, calling out cards that match in either color, number, picture, etc.


Have them work with their hands

Craft projects can tap into a person’s previous skill sets and memories. You might create a collage from magazines or try simple knitting projects. Use a baking sheet to create a spelling tray with magnetic letters to spell familiar words. Making shapes and kneading Play-Doh or modeling clay is also fun and relaxing. Try it with fun cookie-cutter shapes.


You can make a memory box by putting favorite objects, photos, and keepsakes in the box to be handled and examined. This can have a calming effect. Flower arranging is another excellent activity for seniors with dementia. It can provide cognitive and sensory stimulation, preserve motor skills and instill a sense of accomplishment.


Sorting everyday items is another good activity for people living with dementia. Organizing socks or old photos is an easy way to start. Later, you might fill a box with colored beads, buttons, or coins and have your loved one group these items based on similarity. This activity offers a clear, specific objective, as well as engagement with colors and textures.


Introduce good vibrations from music and pets

Listening to live or recorded music may help reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues, even into the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. If you or anyone in your family plays an instrument, treat your loved one to frequent, personal performances. Playing their favorite records and songs almost always has a positive effect. Singing songs and holiday carols can lead to special moments too.


Having a pet around is also soothing and calming. Their unconditional love, focus on the present moment, and positive effect on blood pressure all do wonders for your loved one’s attitude. Birds, dogs, cats, and even fish can help elevate the quality of life for your loved one living with dementia.


Get out in the sunshine

Weather permitting, being outside will lift anyone’s spirits, including those living with dementia. Simply walking a few times a week will be beneficial for both you and your loved one. Gardening provides a change of scenery, fresh air and exercise. Weeding, trimming, sweeping paths, and general tidying in the garden can all be tasks many people with dementia enjoy. If possible, assign a specific patch of garden for digging and planting, and supervise their progress. If your loved one is physically up to it, try riding bikes together. A tandem bicycle gives you more control as your passenger sits in the back seat and pedals. An adult-sized tricycle with you riding alongside is another option.


Keep these other points in mind.

The best activities for seniors with dementia yield tangible outcomes and are fun to do. Follow these guidelines to create a sense of engagement and satisfaction as you spend time with your loved one.


Focus on activities that promote relaxation. Dementia can be a source of anxiety and tension. Some seniors with dementia won’t be able to take part in certain physical activities, but this doesn’t mean they’ve lost their capacity for enjoyment. Relaxation through music, sunlight, warmth, smell and touch is always beneficial.


Sometimes the activity is more important than the outcome. Worry less about how an activity should be done or what the end product is supposed to be than how engaged your loved one is. People in the middle and late stages of dementia aren’t always capable of understanding the goal of an activity. Try to help them enjoy the process by being in the moment.


Know your loved one’s daily rhythms. People move through the progression of dementia in their own way at their own pace. Be alert to signs that an activity may be causing frustration. Modify your approach or try something else if necessary. Is there a better time of day for this particular activity? Are noise and distractions causing sensory overload?


The goal is engagement. Whether playing a game or performing exercises together, the important thing is that the person with dementia stays connected and engaged in the activity. Sensory stimulation in this way helps preserve basic skills — such as being able to button a shirt — and lets them function as independently as possible for as long as possible.


Fun, purposeful activities are part of the experience here

Though dementia is a progressive condition, your loved one will likely have both good and bad days. Some will be filled with energy for lots of activity; at other times, they may struggle to understand certain activities and prefer to do something less taxing. Be flexible and take each day as it comes. The memory care team at Oaks Senior Living can introduce activities to help your loved one with dementia stay fit, connected and inspired. For information on our memory care services, please call us at 770- 796-5871 to learn more.

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