Over 55 million people worldwide have dementia, so the odds are very high that you already know someone who has it or is going to develop it sooner or later. Even if your elderly loved ones never fully develop dementia, some level of memory loss is still common. Dementia and memory loss can make it hard to spend time with people with dementia, especially if they no longer enjoy their usual activities. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t still have fun with people who have dementia, especially early stage dementia. Here are dozens of activities for the elderly with dementia to help inspire you:
Household tasks for people with dementia
- Fold towels or laundry: Folding laundry is a super safe, texturally rich activity, and one that many people with dementia love to help with. If you have a load of clean Alzheimer’s clothing or duster house dresses, don’t be afraid to ask them to help you fold it.
- Clean the house together: Simple cleaning tasks, such as mopping the floors, give people with dementia a sense of purpose and make them feel involved in cleaning days. Give them simple tasks that are easy to execute and don’t pose a high risk for accidents. For instance, instead of asking them to dust the bookcase full of breakable knick-knacks, have them wipe down the empty kitchen table.
- Sorting objects by type: If your loved one enjoys pattern recognition and matching, ask them to sort coins by type, match nuts to bolts and other similar tasks. Keep in mind that this isn’t the best activity if they tend to want to swallow small objects.
- Bake a favorite recipe: Baking a recipe or cooking a meal together is a time-honored way to spend time with family. This activity does require a higher degree of supervision due to the potential use of ovens and knives, but as long as you’re willing to keep a close eye on your loved one, it’s a great option for people with dementia.
- Set the table: Setting the table is another simple task that many people with dementia can do. You do need to be careful with fragile dishes or sharp knives, so this task is best reserved for when you’re eating off plastic dishes with blunt cutlery. Washing, drying and putting away the dishes are other tasks that your loved one can help you with as well.
Indoor activities for people with dementia
- Look at photo albums: Looking through photo albums or scrapbooks can help jog their memory and provide a chance for you all to bond over shared memory. Many people with dementia also enjoy the tactile experience of turning the pages, which isn’t something that you do while scrolling through photos on a phone.
- Watch TV or movies: For lower energy days, watching a beloved movie or TV show is a great way to pass the time. Just make sure to turn it off if you decide to do another activity. People with dementia can get agitated if there’s a lot of background noise or too much stimulation.
- Listen to music: Listening to music — or even dancing along to it — is another great activity to do with people with dementia. A familiar song or album can even help them recall favorite memories associated with it. Just as with the TV, you should turn off music if you decide to do another activity to avoid overstimulating them.
- Do chair exercises: Even seniors who are wheelchair-bound still benefit from a little exercise. If your loved one has trouble moving around, then do seated exercises such as arm circles and leg lifts to get their blood flowing without threatening their balance.
- Try restorative yoga: If your loved one is capable of maintaining their balance, then they might really benefit from restorative yoga. This gentle practice is focused on stretching and lengthening the muscles and working on balance. Because of its slower pace and simpler poses, many older adults enjoy doing it even if they have no yoga experience.
- Create a memory bag or box.
- Put together a jigsaw puzzle: Jigsaw puzzles, especially those with large pieces and easy-to-figure-out pictures, are a great option for people with dementia. If all you have on hand are 1,000-piece monsters with very detailed pictures, try buying some easier puzzles just for your loved one.
- Experiment with sensory fabrics: People with dementia often enjoy exploring different senses, including touch. Try putting together a kit of different fabrics such as silk, velvet and cotton so they can experiment with different textures. If you want to take things one step further, you can make bean bags of different fabrics. The moveable filler will add an extra sensory element that many people with dementia enjoy.
- Create a fidget box: A fidget box plays on the same principles as the fabric box, but it takes a slightly different approach. A sensory box is basically just a collection of objects that have different textures and that are made of different materials. Aim for a wide variety of textures, such as metal keys, stretchy rubber bands and a soft rag.
- Do simple crafts: While people with dementia may not be able to handle very complicated draft projects, they often enjoy simple activities such as painting or stringing beads. If they had a crafting hobby they were previously very dedicated to, such as knitting, they might still be able to do it according to muscle memory even if they can’t consciously remember the steps.
- Cuddle with a pet: Spending quality time with animals is good for our health, and it can have a positive effect on people with dementia even if they can’t remember much anymore. Encourage your loved one to spend some time loving the family pet (if you have one) to cheer them up.
- Flip through catalogs or magazines: Some people with dementia don’t have the short memory to follow along with a story, but they still enjoy the feeling of flipping through pages. Going through catalogs or magazines can be an excellent alternative that doesn’t require a long attention span.
Outdoor activities for people with dementia
- Go for a walk: Going for an easy walk together around the neighborhood is a great way to get people with dementia out of the house. Tiring them out through regular physical activity may also reduce their chances of wandering off on their own.
- Garden together: If you have a garden or yard, then ask your loved one to help you with certain tasks such as weeding or planting. Even if you don’t have a yard, you can still make a little container garden or window box for them to care for. Just be sure to keep them away from dangerous tools and chemicals.
- Visit a botanical garden: If you don’t have access to a garden at home, many older adults enjoy visiting botanical gardens. Go during a cool day or the early morning hours to avoid the hot summer afternoons and the bigger crowds.
- Have a picnic together: Picnics are the perfect low-key activity for a mild summer day. Bring simple finger foods that will be easy to prepare and clean up. If the weather is bad, you can also get creative and have an indoor picnic instead.
- Pick fruit at a local farm: If you live near a fruit farm that is in season, picking fruit is a very special activity that is perfect to do with your loved one. Check with the farm ahead of time to see if you need to bring your own baskets or containers so that you don’t show up unprepared.
- Fly a kite: Flying a kite isn’t just for kids. Many older adults with dementia enjoy it as well! This is another good activity to get the grandkids involved in, so pick a breezy day and go to a wide open field where you can take advantage of the wind and send your kites soaring.
- Go for a scenic drive: If your elderly loved one enjoys going for a drive, even if they can no longer drive themselves, pick a scenic route and go explore it together. You can either choose a favorite drive or use this as an excuse to take a day trip to a new town.
- Practice bird watching: Many older adults enjoy bird watching in their retirement years, and they may still continue to enjoy watching birds even if they are no longer able to identify them. Choose a local park known for its bird population and try to go at a time of day when the birds will be more active.
- Attend a sporting event: Lots of seniors enjoy watching sporting events, regardless of whether or not they ever played themselves. Buy cheap tickets to see a local team play and don’t forget to grab some concessions! If the weather is foul, then your relative may still enjoy watching the game on the TV.
- Play catch or horseshoes: Simple games like catch or horseshoes will get you all moving and provide hours of entertainment. Choose lightweight, easy-to-throw objects that have a low risk of injuring the players.
Personal grooming for people with dementia
- Brush or trim their hair: Many people with dementia struggle to do their own hair, so having someone else do it for them is both practical and soothing. Washing, brushing and/or trimming their hair will help keep them feeling fresh and clean.
- Apply lotion to their skin: Many older people suffer from dry, crepey skin, and lotion can help alleviate the dryness and peeling. You can help apply lotion to common dry patches, such as the hands, elbows and knees, to give them relief from peeling.
- Give them a foot massage: Take off their extra wide shoes and give them a foot massage to help soothe their aching feet. While you’re at it, consider giving them a pedicure and/or manicure to finish out the massage.
- Have a spa day: If you really want to pamper your older loved one, combine some of these activities into the ultimate at-home spa day. Trim their hair, give them a foot massage, paint their nails, do their makeup and more to make them feel special and loved.
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