People living with dementia can experience a lack of stimulation and the boredom this causes can be frustrating. It’s important to provide people with engaging activities, suited to their individual needs, to keep their minds active.
We’ve compiled a selection of the best activities to stimulate and entertain service users. These are suitable for use within residential care homes, or within the home and can be conducted by healthcare professionals, relatives or friends alike.
COVID-19 update: We've updated this piece to reflect the current situation and restrictions with COVID-19. Things are a little different now, however, it's more important than ever to ensure that the person in your care is able to continue with their hobbies, interests and activities as much as possible.
Activities for people at the early stages of dementia
Symptoms of the early stages of Alzheimer’s include minor to moderate memory loss, slowed speech, confusion and disorientation and difficulties with reading, concentration and learning new ideas. It’s important to help people living with dementia maintain their independence and keep both their brain and body as active as possible.
Encourage reminiscence and interaction with discussion groups
Discussion groups are a great way to encourage interaction between people living with dementia. Reminiscence therapy is encouraged by the Alzheimer’s Society who provides a free range of discussion starters.
Merle Weiner, Activity Co-ordinator of residential home Green Tree Court explains,
“Our residents enjoy discussion groups and one topic we discuss is Places of Interest. Each resident is given a picture of an iconic location or building. Clues are read aloud about that place and someone will guess where it is. This usually opens up a discussion on who has been to visit that place and stories and experiences are shared between everyone.”
Keeping residents active with exercise
Residents or loved ones need to be kept physically active to keep their muscles, joints and heart in good shape. Physical activity will help regulate their sleep, prevent restlessness and maintain a positive mood.
Tai Chi and water aerobics are gentle activities that are recommended because they are low impact on muscles and joints. Additional benefits include improving balance and agility, therefore reducing falls.
At Green Tree Court, Merle Weiner hosts a monthly tea dance for her residents. She said,
“Each month we hold a Tea Dance, with a guest singer to entertain the residents. Residents enjoy dancing and reminisce about the times that they would attend afternoon and evening dances. Cream tea is enjoyed by everyone after the dance.”
Despite perhaps struggling with memory loss, some residents may remember the tune or lyrics to songs from their past. To try this, compile a playlist of your residents’ favourite songs (you may need to ask their loved ones for this information) and host a group singing session.
Tip: Singing along yourself will encourage them to join in and providing a sheet of words for them to follow, in a large font size, will help them follow the music.
Alzheimer’s disease shouldn’t stop people from getting fresh air outside. If possible, take your residents or loved one for a short walk into the garden and seat them outside with food and refreshment in a comfortable, shaded place.
Gardening therapy is very stimulating and engaging for residents. Gardening can create a sense of purpose and help your residents experience the feeling of success and accomplishment. This activity will require close supervision and assistance and is best carried out early in the morning to avoid the hottest times of the day. Raised beds are a great way to make this activity accessible for all.
Sensory gardens are a wonderful way for residents to enjoy the great outdoors in a safe environment. These gardens should include plants for them to smell and touch, with scented leaves such as herbs like Lavender and Mint. For sound, you could plant grasses and trees such as Birch, Pine and Poplar.
Tip: Ensure there are plenty of places for them to sit in the shade and passively enjoy the space, and that all plants are safe and non-toxic.
Update for COVID-19 pandemic: If you don't have a safe private garden, consider bringing the outside in by bringing in fresh, non-toxic flowers and plants into the home.
If you have a conservatory or a sun room, how about growing potted herbs or tomatoes in a grow-bag?
Keeping socially active
Keeping socially active is paramount for living with dementia. Aside from discussion groups within the care home, you could arrange for groups of children from local schools to pay a visit. This would be a perfect time to host games, arts or crafts activities.
Intergenerational activities are mutually beneficial to youngsters and the elderly as their confidence is boosted from forming new friendships.
Visits from friendly, well-behaved pets can be a real joy for any animal-lovers that you care for. These pets should be happy sitting on people’s laps and receiving attention from lots of people at a time.
Tip: Check to see if your residents have any allergies to pets before inviting any furry friends.
Update for COVID-19 pandemic: As an alternative to trips out of the home or inviting guests in, you could facilitate social activities through a smart device using a video application such as Skype or Zoom. This will enable your residents to socialise, seeing loved ones and friends, while staying safe.
Check to see if any local clubs or associations are doing online catch ups using video conferencing technology. Most religious establishments are now hosting services online, too. Ensuring that the people you're caring for can continue life as close to normal as possible is important.
Activities for people at the later stages of dementia
Due to the degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s, people at the later stages of the disease will experience physical and mental impairments. Activities should be simplified but, by all means, be carried out regularly. Here are some ideas to help you stimulate the senses of your residents:
Sight - use posters, artwork and fabrics to decorate communal spaces and encourage discussion
Touch - activities such as hand massage and ‘fiddle’ activities such as handling pieces of fabric of different textures, puzzles or undoing knots can be useful. The Alzheimer’s Society has a wide range of products to suit varying needs
Taste & smell - stimulate olfactory senses with fruit and herbs, aromatherapy baths and scent diffusers.
Tip: As mobility decreases and trips outside may become more limited, decorating communal spaces with plants and flowers can be a great way to make them more interesting.
For more tips on caring for those with dementia and Alzheimer's, take a look at our healthcare news.