37 activities for dementia patients you should try with your loved one today

Activities for dementia patients can be a struggle to find and when we care about someone with Dementia or Alzheimer’s we want to make sure they continue to feel stimulated and happy. To help, we’ve selected a list of activities for dementia patients that research shows can be beneficial for those suffering from the condition. The research shows that a good dementia activity should:

  • Help your loved one feel more productive
  • Encourage emotional expression
  • Help build emotional connections with others
  • Provide opportunities to draw on old memories

Since we’re currently in a coronavirus lockdown, you may find our other article 12 lockdown activities to do with distant family more relevant at this time.

While this list is designed for someone looking after their loved one directly there are plenty of organisations that organise social and dementia activities such as Age UK and Joy. Interspersing organisation activities with your own can help to ease the burden on yourself.

Exercise activities

Picture of two people walking on a forest path. A walk is a good form of excercise for those with dementia.

Your GP will be the first to tell you that a healthy body helps people live longer, happier lives. This is not only because they are physically more healthy but because physical health makes it easier for them to get out and about to see people. Links have also been drawn between the health of the body and the health of the mind, keeping them sharper for longer

Exercise can take many forms with your loved one from a simple walk to fishing by a pond. Here are some other examples to get you started:

1. Go for a walk – It’s a simple way to get out and stretch the muscles.

2. Go Fishing – Depending on the type of fishing this can be more or less physically demanding. In any case, it’s a good excuse to get out.

3. Take a bike for a ride – If your loved one has the balance then a bike ride can be a good way to see a bit more.

4. Play a round of golf – Golf can offer more social interactions more than a walk.

5. Mini exercise classes – There are plenty of videos online offering mini exercise classes even for those that are chair bound.

6. Bounce a balloon across a family circle – This is a great way to include the grandkids, everyone likes to play bouncing the balloon around the circle.

The science behind it:

As this article shows exercise training increases cognitive function and positive behaviour in people with dementia and related cognitive impairments.

Animal therapy activities

Picture of a dog. Interacting with animals can be a great activity for dementia patients

Animal therapy is the practice of bringing patients into contact with animals (often dogs or horses) to try and help improve their mood. While the science on animal therapy for those suffering from Dementia or Alzheimer’s is still ongoing, the early signs show that it can have a positive impact on both patients and carers.

With this in mind, here are some ideas:

7. Pet a dog – If you don’t have a dog then take a look at the website www.borrowmydoggy.com and take someone else’s dog for a walk.

8. Visit a local wildlife sanctuary – Whether these be donkeys, monkeys or owls.

9. Organise a session with an animal therapy organisation – If you don’t feel confident organising something yourself you can always try contacting an organisation that does this professionally.

10. Feed the birds in the back garden – Seeing the small birds come into the back garden can bring joy to everyone.

The science behind it:

Studies into the effects of animal therapy with those suffering from dementia have been going on for decades now. This recent study collates the results of 6 other studies determined that there was some benefit as a complementary treatment for those suffering from Dementia. Even if the science isn’t conclusive, who can’t help but be cheered up by a friendly doggy?

Reminiscence therapy activities

Picture of an old TV. Digging out some old TV shows from youtube can be a great way to reminisce with your loved one.

Reminiscing can be a great activity to partake in because people with dementia tend to have better memories of things that occurred many years ago. Talking to them about the past helps them to feel competent and confident. It’s also a great way to find out something you didn’t know about your loved one.

One difficulty of interacting with Dementia patients about their past is that direct questions can make them uncomfortable if they don’t remember the answer. Thankfully with modern technology, we have a few different ways you might be able to uncover things you thought were long forgotten.

Here are some things to try:

11. Watch some old TV – YouTube has an overflowing repository of old TV shows and footage of events. See if you can find that TV program they remember loving when they were younger.

12. Research your family history – See if you can find out some information about your family tree and if that inspires any stories from their past.

13. Make a photo album together – You can even get them printed into a book online for your loved one to flick through when you come to visit.

14. Take a tour on google maps – Take them on a tour of the town or village they grew up in on Google Maps. This can be a fun way to see what places they can recognise and how the landscape has changed.

15. Read their favourite book – This is a great way to help them remember an old story they used to love. It can also be fun for you. If you don’t have the time to read to them then find the audiobook online.

The science behind it:

One recent study found that the benefits to the individual suffering dementia were small. The benefits of deeper conversations with your loved one can’t be underestimated though.

We concluded that the effects of RT vary, depending on the way it is given and whether it takes place in care homes or the community. However, there is some evidence that RT can improve quality of life, cognition, communication and possibly mood in people with dementia in some circumstances, although all the benefits were small.

Reminiscence therapy for dementia

Activities with grandchildren

Picture of some kids in wellies. Interacting with their grandkids can be good for elderly people.

Grandchildren are a great source of joy and activity for may older people. They can help to liven up someone’s day when they’d otherwise be sitting passively. In addition, the responsibility of looking after the grandkids, if only for a few minutes can help your loved one to feel productive. Most of the other activities on the page can be completed with the addition of grandkids but you can try these out specifically:

16. Have your kids put on a show – Get your kids to put on a show, whether it’s singing a song or creating a puppet show. There is plenty of scope for a whole afternoons entertainment.

17. Ask your parent to tell your kids a story – They can make it up or read from a book but storytelling is a great way for them to interact with their grandkids.

The science behind it:

Although cause and effect can’t be proven yet, there are some studies that have shown a link between life expectancy and grandparents that play with their grandkids.

Art therapy activities

Picture of someone painting at an easel. Painting and arts and crafts are recommended for those suffering from dementia.

Art therapy has long been considered a useful tool when helping those with Dementia. It can be a great way to release creativity instead of just consuming entertainment all day even if they were never that arty.

Some of the best arts and crafts ideas we’ve come across are also the simplest:

18. Knitting – This is a great way to feel productive producing a blanket or item of clothing while also providing an outlet to get creative with patterns and designs.

19. Painting – There are plenty of different types of painting and depending on the ability of your loved one you might be able to try AquaPaint sold by Active Minds.

20. Scrapbooking – Like creating a photo album, scrapbooking can be a great way to reminisce with snippets of newspapers and memories from your loved ones past.

21. Colouring-in – If being arty isn’t really there thing then maybe try some colouring in. There are plenty of great colouring books designed for dementia patients and it can be relaxing for all of us.

The science behind it:

One 2018 article summarised the research of many other studies into art therapy and concluded in the case of the elderly that it was effective especially in group settings.

It is clear from the articles that group therapy sessions are particularly suitable for these clients and that it is important to continue conducting research to target effective intervention methods for this population. The research findings certainly indicate the potential of this field

Effectiveness of Art Therapy With Adult Clients in 2018

Games / Brain training activity

Picture of some dominoes. Dominoes and other games are good at cognitivie stimulating for those with dementia.

Board games are always a great way to spend some time if the weather outside isn’t great or someone isn’t as mobile as they could be. They encourage communication and give the mind some challenge.

22. Snakes and Ladders – While not a brain training exercise it can help to build the confidence of your loved one.

23. Sudoku – Mix it up by doing a sodoku race where everyone competes to hit the top score.

24. Scrabble – A classic game where you try to fit words onto a board constructed from the letter you’ve pulled from a bag.

25. Jigsaw Puzzles – Can be a fun group activity everyone can get involved in.

26. Crosswords – Solve the clues to complete the grid of words.

27. Dominoes – A simple game that can be played with grandkids

The science behind it:

Many studies have shown some benefits of so-called “Brain Training” activities that help to improve some aspects of memory and thinking in the middle-aged and older. Those kinds of games include crosswords and Sudoku puzzles.

Music therapy activities

Picture of a vinyl record. Digging out some vinyl records can be a fun way to listen to music with your loved one. Music therapy is used with dementia patients.

Music is one of those great activities for dementia patients. It can stir the emotions like nothing else so finding some activities that involve listening to music are always fun. You could try:

28. Watch videos of a favourite singer performing live – Finding some youtube videos of your loved one’s favourite singer or band performing live could be a great trigger to reminisce or you can just sit back and enjoy the music.

29. Listen to a vinyl record collection – If your loved one has any old vinyl records stored away you could try getting them out for a listen

30. Build a Spotify playlist – Compile a list of your loved one’s favourite music. You could also link their Spotify playlist to an Alexa so they can access it anytime they like. See our article on how the elderly can use a smart speaker.

The science behind it:

Providing people with dementia who are in institutional care with at least five sessions of a music-based therapeutic intervention probably reduces depressive symptoms and improves overall behavioural problems at the end of treatment. It may also improve emotional well-being and quality of life and reduce anxiety, but may have little or no effect on agitation or aggression or on cognition.

Music-based therapeutic interventions for people with dementia

Around the house activities

Picture of someone kneading dough. Baking can be a great activity to do with dementia patients.

Finding time to keep your loved one stimulated can be a challenge so asking them to help you with some safe tasks around the house could be the activity they need to feel useful that doesn’t make them unsafe.

31. Bake a cake – Get your loved one to help you bake a cake for everyone to enjoy. Everybody loves cake!

32. Have your loved one help you pair socks – It’s a simple task you can set for your loved one even if they are chair bound.

33. Polish the silverware – Get ready for Sunday lunch by having your loved one polish the silverware. This is another great activity for someone that is chair bound.

Getting out and about

Picture of a flower. Getting outside can be great for people suffering from dementia. It's a common activity for dementia patients.

You can try:

34. Going on a drive and visiting a beauty spot – Everyone knows their local beauty spots. Maybe there is a hill with a parking space at the top. You might even be able to pick up a few ice creams.

35. Get all the family round for a BBQ – Having a BBQ in the back garden can be a great excuse to get everyone around and enjoy the outside.

36. Taking your loved one out shopping – It might not seem like much but it’s part of everyday life that helps people feel normal.

37. Work on the garden or grow some vegetables – This can be a relaxing type of work that gets your loved one back to nature.

The science behind it:

Plenty of studies have shown the benefits of getting outside and into nature not just those living with dementia. Getting outside can also help to alleviate other issues such as agitation and sleeplessness. Anytime that you can get your loved one out a house will be beneficial.

Keep trying new things and don’t give up

Don’t be afraid to fail with activities even if the first few activities you try don’t work out. Understanding what your loved one needs can take time and you probably won’t find what works best straight away. We hope that you find some of these ideas useful and can apply them with your own loved one.

Author: James

I founded and manage PrimeCarers, a Platform that connects Private Clients with Private Carers near them.