Engaging activities for persons with dementia

Engaging activities for persons with dementia

It is usually obvious what a person with dementia is no longer able to do. But finding things your loved one CAN do may feel like a challenge, especially if memory loss is severe. Here are some tips:

Activities are important. They answer core human needs for

  • identity and personal expression
  • life purpose and meaning
  • connection with others

Boredom or lack of engagement may lead your relative to unsafe activities, such as wandering. Or to activities that frustrate you, such as “reorganizing” the dresser or tearing bits of paper. Or to a change in mood that may bring on agitation or depression.

Activities can be

  • task oriented: Sorting things (buttons, bolts, paper clips), folding laundry, sweeping the patio, dressing a doll
  • physical: Taking a walk, washing the car, dancing, singing, clapping
  • creative: Painting, stringing beads, making up stories from a picture
  • mental: Reading, doing simple puzzles, watching a nature video, playing bingo
  • social: Having a visitor, going to church, reviewing old photos

Focus on creating pleasure. Not on completing the activity or doing it “right.” The goal is for your relative to feel engaged. In fact, depending on their level of dementia, passing the time is more important than getting something actually done. For instance, a basket of folded towels can be taken to the next room, quickly jumbled up and arrive anew as “another load” in need of folding. Your loved one will likely not know the difference, and it can keep them happily occupied for quite some time. (Plus offer you a nice break!)

Ideally, create a daily routine for your loved one. Provide a balance of activity and relaxation. Too much activity itself causes stress. Remember that tasks of personal care, such as bathing and dressing, are activities, too.

Consider your relative’s history and interests. If they worked in an office, provide a desk and papers to “organize.” If a homemaker, ask for help folding towels, dusting, or winding yarn.

Start the activity. A person with dementia is more able to participate than to initiate. Begin as a “team.” 

Modify as needed. Stay flexible. Follow their lead and change activities as your relative changes. If going out to eat becomes too much, just go for a drive. If interest in dancing wanes, just sway or tap feet.