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Activities for people with dementia

Supporting someone living with dementia is so much about trying to keep things as normal as possible and maintain health, wellbeing and happiness.  Activities for people with dementia may need to change with the progression of the disease, but it is so important to encourage keeping busy and active, particularly to help prevent common symptoms such as depression, whilst lessening anxiety and irritability.

Whatever activities, whether indoor our outdoor, there is some excellent advice to try and ensure it is the most pleasurable experience for everyone:

  • Plan ahead – well worth being organised beforehand whatever the task/activity
  • Explain and involve your parent or relative in the planning
  • Be prepared for the unexpected! Loo stops, clothing,  food and drink etc.
  • Don’t feel you have to do it all yourself – involve others, join a group, don’t do it all alone
  • It doesn’t always need to be “exciting” – the mundane is as useful and exciting as an adventure
  • Don’t despair, there will be good days and bad days
  • Success is about the activity not the outcome

12 Activities for people with dementia

The great outdoors

1.Exercise and physical activity

Exercise and physical activity have universal benefits not just for people living with dementia. From helping with sleep it can also prevent restlessness.  As we all know, a bit of vitamin d from a lovely walk, or an endorphin rush from even relatively gentle exercise go a long way to making the day a bit brighter and lifting your mood.

It may be that your parent becomes unable to take the regular exercise they once did, golf, tennis or serious walking, but there are many other options that you can arrange yourself such as a walk around the village, or perhaps joining the local gym or swimming pool – both of which may well have dementia friendly sessions.    

activities for people with dementia
  1. Go out and about

It may become easier and less stressful to discourage your parent or relative from going out and about as much as they used to. However, boredom at home comes with its own risks such as boredom, lack of purpose and anxiety. 

You may need to change some of the visits and trips that they used to be able to manage; but a trip to the shops, a day out at a National Trust property perhaps or just a totter round the local park can be hugely beneficial.  LINK to behaviour in public.

  1. Explore nature

And on the subject of the local park, as we have all discovered during the pandemic, getting closer to nature can be incredibly soothing and restful.

Gardening can of course have a number of benefits including the satisfaction of producing your own flowers or vegetables.  However large or small, a garden or allotment can be a haven for anyone struggling; perhaps creating a sensory garden could be a project you can do together – one combining touch, feel, smell and taste – even in pots on a terrace or balcony. 

You may need to make some changes to the garden to make it secure and easier such as fencing or raised beds. But, what a great way to combine getting out and about with a real sense of purpose.

There are a number of local organisations that offer dementia-friendly nature activities; you may be able to find a local gardening club, or a walking group, or bird-watching project. 

support someone with dementia in hospital

If you’re looking for something a bit further afield, then Dementia Adventure might be the organisation for you – arranging days out and holidays in groups or bespoke.  LINKS 

Indoor activities

4.Domestic duties

Every day domestic tasks give all of us a sense of routine, purpose and achievement, even though they may not be top of the “todo” list.  Small but purposeful pleasures – yes really –  can be gained from folding the laundry, to cooking a favourite meal.   For someone living with dementia, you may find that some of these can help with anxiety about memory loss, depression and restlessness.

Finding ‘new’ activities to do can be exhausting. But even everyday tasks can provide stimulation throughout the day. This allow you to get jobs and give your parent a sense of purpose. 

In addition to folding the laundry, other fabulously satisfying projects include pairing socks (if one hasn’t disappeared in the washing machine), cleaning the silver or removing the cobwebs.….

activities for someone with dementia

5.Reminiscence

Taking a trip down memory lane  isn’t just a whimsical exercise as often long-term memory remains stronger for longer in people living with dementia. 

Many of us never have the conversations with our parents about their lives, or the lives of their parents – so its potentially a lovely thing to be able to do for the whole family: get out the photo albums, videos and cinefilms out and encourage their reminiscences.  You could create your own family memory box as a great start. 

6.Keeping hobbies going

There may come a point where a favourite hobby becomes impossible, frustrating and counter-productive.  But until that time comes, try not let it matter if the stamps are a bit wobbly in the books, or the knitting is more plain than pearl.  

activities for someone with dementia

Encouragement and support is all.  Perhaps you will be able to adapt a much loved past-time to be a bit easier, or to change it for something different.  For example, balls of wool might become easier than actually knitting. 

7.Cooking and baking

Food may become something of a challenge over time. But it can also be a wonderful memory opportunity, as well as a practical and soothing past-time.

Spam fritters or spotted dick may have come off the menu long ago but cook alongside Mum or Dad and encourage them to help with the preparation, or just sit in the kitchen with you as you cook. 

8.Other activities

We have heard about one family who keep a jigsaw puzzle on the go in the kitchen all the time. It’s become a lovely project and habit – whilst cooking or just sitting and chatting.  Eventually the puzzle is finished!

Other familiar activities and games – the daily crossword, dominoes or chess;  board games – particularly the old family favourites such as snakes and ladders, scrabble – all of which have the added benefits of being fun and stimulating.

9.Reading

If your loved one loved to read but is now struggling to do that, you could read them their favourite book. You can even let them listen to their favourite book, or new books, on tape or as an audiobook. This can be a better alternative to television if they don’t find television stimulating or are no longer able to read themselves.

Therapies

10.Animal therapy

Who doesn’t love a cuddle with a dog or cat?  If If your loved one is an animal lover but doesn’t have a pet, animal therapy could be a great way to provide stimulation. Pets have been shown to relieve stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety whilst also providing a sensory experience for your loved one.

There are other benefits too. Pet therapy can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and boost levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.

Why not consider the following?

  • Invite a friend or family member over who has a well-behaved pet
  • Take your parent to visit a local animal shelter or a local farm to see the small animals
  • Research local animal therapy organisations

11.Music therapy

Music offers a powerful way of providing comfort to people. Music can both soothe and stimulate people. It can elicit powerful emotional responses and also help people reconnect with memories. Nostalgia can also be a great way to help your loved one connect with their past if they are living with dementia.

  • Listen to their favourite signer, band or genre together
  • Create a Spotify playlist of their favourite artist or genre
  • Show them videos of their favourite singer or band performing live

Music and singing can be very powerful ways to relive memories, and music is also used as a form of therapy.

Music therapy is enjoyable and can improve your mental wellbeing. You can find a qualified music therapist in your area on the British Association for Music Therapy website. 

activities for someone with dementia
  1. Arts & Crafts

Arts and crafts are a wonderful way of letting your loved one express themselves whilst also exploring their creative side. For many, even if they were never particularly artsy or creative, arts and crafts can provide a wide range of sensory stimulation.  Activities to consider include:

  • Painting
  • Knitting
  • Colouring-in

A wide range of adult painting books like Alzheimer’s Art Therapy and other dementia activity products can be purchased over on Active Minds website.

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