Activities for Alzheimer's and Dementia Patients

I believe activities are crucial to well-being. In the past ten years, research has shown that activities play a large part in preventing the progression of dementia. We also know that socializing prevents loneliness, despair and suicidal thoughts.

For several years I led recreational activities on weekends at a geri-psych hospital. The activities that took place on any particular weekend greatly depended on the patients in the unit at that time. All of the patients there had dementia and behavior disorders that precluded their being able to remain at home until the behavior had been extinguished. Most patients were on the unit between three to four weeks, while the doctors changed their drugs or the dosages. Some were more alert; others were more physically functional. Some returned home; others returned to a nursing home or entered a long-term care facility for the first time after discharge.

There are many activities that are appropriate for people with dementia. The only guideline is to not degrade them by having them do children’s activities. Instead, show your respect by engaging them in pastimes that are similar to children’s activities but suitable for an adult, retaining whatever qualities that make the activity fun. Here are some suggestions for caregivers who have a dementia patient at home.

Puzzles & Games

  • Easy crosswords and word searches that use large type.
  • Jigsaw puzzles with very large pieces. The images shouldn’t be child-oriented; try scenery or pictures of animals instead. Floor puzzles are good because they typically have large pieces, and there aren’t too many, which can be discouraging. Work on these on a table so you don’t have to struggle getting off the floor!
  • Old favorites like dominoes, card games such as “ Go Fish ” or “ Old Maid ” and board games like Candyland and Pollyanna.
  • Reminiscing, a board game available through SeniorStore.com , which prompts memories of assorted events and fads from 1939 on.

Photo & Scrapbooking Activities

  • Sort photos by topic, subject, type or date. Mix them up after you finish so they can be sorted in a different way next time.
  • Assemble a photo collage. Pasting can be fun.
  • Make a scrapbook, pasting photos onto the pages and writing notes about the memory beside the photo. You can also use a photo album with plastic sleeves.
  • Label old family photos so you’ll have that information later on.
  • Reminisce about the focus of the photo.

Reading Activities

Read out loud or simply look through books and magazines that can lead to discussions. Try:

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

Reminiscing with Memory Books

You can find blank memory books in the baby section of a bookstore. These usually pose questions that will prompt discussion. Here are a few suggestions:

Activities Involving Humor

  • Watch or listen to comedy TV shows, movies and old radio shows like “ Who’s on first ” (Abbott and Costello) and “ I Love Lucy .”
  • Start a humor notebook or scrapbook.
  • Laugh over funny family memories (like the time Mom put frozen rolls on the Thanksgiving table).

Housework

  • Rake leaves.
  • Fold towels.
  • Clean windows.
  • Cut coupons.

Gardening Activities

  • Pull weeds.
  • Plant annuals in spring and bulbs in the fall.
  • Transplant small plants into larger pots. Have the patient paint pots ahead of time and use these for gifts.

Seasonal Decorating

  • String cranberries or popcorn.
  • Make door wreaths and window decorations.
  • Put up decorations and take them down.

Sorting & Organizing Activities

Sort or organize:

  • Nails, screws and other hardware.
  • Nail polish and lipsticks, sorting by color, brand or on a scale of 1–10, in order of preference.
  • Buttons, using muffin tins to sort by color, size or style.
  • Coins, according to date, value or place of origin.
  • The pantry, arranging cans and jars by size, brand or contents.
  • The silverware drawer, rearranging the order of the forks, spoons and knives.
  • Playing cards into decks that match, or into suits within a deck, or by numbers. Tupperware by size or color.
  • M&Ms, using muffin tins to sort them by color. Choose one color to eat!

Cooking & Activities in the Kitchen

  • Make salads, ice cream, Jell-O, pudding (try a hand mixer), no-bake cookies and pies, popcorn balls and other simple recipes.
  • Wash fresh produce and put it into bags.
  • Grind nuts to use for baking.
  • Peel vegetables.
  • Copy recipes from magazines onto cards .
  • Make a grocery list of items needed for recipes.
  • Sort recipes and find pictures to illustrate them.
  • Empty the dishwasher (use melamine or plastic dinnerware).
  • Set the table.
  • Fold or roll silverware into napkins.
  • Assemble shish-kabobs with fruit or vegetables (use wooden ones with blunt ends).
  • Shell nuts or peas.

The list above is not all-inclusive. Hopefully it will give you some ideas for getting started. Think about the kind of activities the patient has always enjoyed. Those are probably the best ones to start with. I’ll close with a few more ideas.

If the care recipient enjoys building things, try assembling model kits of airplanes or cars. A simpler activity could be making strings of paper clips, using different colors and sizes. Patients who have an artistic side may enjoy painting or coloring in one of Dover’s many stained glass coloring books . Musically inclined patients might enjoy singing along to patriotic songs, hymns and old favorites, or playing rhythm band instruments. Did the patient used to enjoy sewing or mending? Offer some pants that need hemming or items of clothing that need buttons sewn on. Remember: people with dementia can still derive enjoyment from activities they have always enjoyed. Give it a try!

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

about 1 month ago, said...

I think the Boa books were recommended because they both have older people in the stories and because they lead to discussion and are colorful. Picture books are good for some dementia patients because while they can still read, they cannot maintain in their memory the words they have read to have it make sense (reading comprehension). They also may quit watching movies because they cannot follow what has happened in the story. The rest of the books were age appropriate. You can always... Show more I think the Boa books were recommended because they both have older people in the stories and because they lead to discussion and are colorful. Picture books are good for some dementia patients because while they can still read, they cannot maintain in their memory the words they have read to have it make sense (reading comprehension). They also may quit watching movies because they cannot follow what has happened in the story. The rest of the books were age appropriate. You can always select what is appropriate for your loved one. Hide

4 months ago, said...

Why would you ever read kindergarten books to adults, unless you were reading picture books to them that they may have read to their children, or read as children? I am referencing The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash, and any other similar books. And that only as part of a structured program, not as the whole program itself. The first rule of activities for those with Alzheimer's is treat them like adults. Linda Bailey CTRS Why would you ever read kindergarten books to adults, unless you were reading picture books to them that they may have read to their children, or read as children? I am referencing The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash, and any other similar books. And that only as part of a structured program, not as the whole program itself. The first rule of activities for those with Alzheimer's is treat them like adults. Linda Bailey CTRS Hide

7 months ago, said...

I currently work on a challenging all male dementia ward,where some are either Immobile or others pace the corridors looking for something tearing up books or throwing items,is there anything you can suggest to occupy them? I currently work on a challenging all male dementia ward,where some are either Immobile or others pace the corridors looking for something tearing up books or throwing items,is there anything you can suggest to occupy them? Hide

about 1 year ago, said...

Plz help My mom just tears up everything she gets her hands on Books etc I need an activity to help her to occupy her time She is 88 gotten worse over last yr Still knows immediate family members Stays at home and I have a caregiver while I work My dad 90 not well also O2 24/7 Any suggestions? My patience run thin Only child and I am trying so hard, but wish I could think of something for my mom to do Plz help My mom just tears up everything she gets her hands on Books etc I need an activity to help her to occupy her time She is 88 gotten worse over last yr Still knows immediate family members Stays at home and I have a caregiver while I work My dad 90 not well also O2 24/7 Any suggestions? My patience run thin Only child and I am trying so hard, but wish I could think of something for my mom to do Hide

about 1 year ago, said...

I am just learning. It is my third month as an activity aide and just love it. would like to find information of different pictures I can play from my computer to the projector. I would like to start conversations with the residents about what they think they are doing in the pictures a what is happening. I am just learning. It is my third month as an activity aide and just love it. would like to find information of different pictures I can play from my computer to the projector. I would like to start conversations with the residents about what they think they are doing in the pictures a what is happening. Hide

almost 2 years ago, said...

On the Internet? Best Alzheimer's Products has some great articles about the importance of Activity for people with dementia. On the Internet? Best Alzheimer's Products has some great articles about the importance of Activity for people with dementia. Hide

about 2 years ago, said...

What an excellent list. I'm sharing these on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Thank you. What an excellent list. I'm sharing these on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Thank you. Hide

over 2 years ago, said...

You can combine the idea of scrapbooking and making a memory book by creating a LifeSongs memory book. It can be an activity for early stage dementia and a tool for Alzheimer's care for late stage dementia. It combines photo collages and 12 musical recordings (that you record depending on the person's favorites) in order to tell their life story. It is used for reminiscing, redirecting and calming negative behaviors. Please visit www.LifeSongs.info to learn more. You can combine the idea of scrapbooking and making a memory book by creating a LifeSongs memory book. It can be an activity for early stage dementia and a tool for Alzheimer's care for late stage dementia. It combines photo collages and 12 musical recordings (that you record depending on the person's favorites) in order to tell their life story. It is used for reminiscing, redirecting and calming negative behaviors. Please visit www.LifeSongs.info to learn more. Hide

over 2 years ago, said...

why do people with dementia need picture books and what happens if it is not met why do people with dementia need picture books and what happens if it is not met Hide

over 2 years ago, said...

Very helpful information Very helpful information Hide

almost 3 years ago, said...

Are there purchasable activities (puzzles, etc) that I can send my sister who is a dementia patient at the Naval Retirement home? Are there purchasable activities (puzzles, etc) that I can send my sister who is a dementia patient at the Naval Retirement home? Hide

almost 3 years ago, said...

Sometimes you hit on the thing or things that help more than even imaginable. My sisters and i found that mom loves coloring. It gives her peace when she is not out of the house doing something. She seeks approval and when coloring we are able to tell her r how beautiful her pictures are.. and they are! Sometimes you hit on the thing or things that help more than even imaginable. My sisters and i found that mom loves coloring. It gives her peace when she is not out of the house doing something. She seeks approval and when coloring we are able to tell her r how beautiful her pictures are.. and they are! Hide

about 3 years ago, said...

This info is very helpful thanx This info is very helpful thanx Hide

about 3 years ago, said...

Hi There, I am a singer/pianist who entertains at Assisted Living Facilities and Alzheimer's Outreach Centres in Southern Ontario daily. I see the most unresponsive patients react to the music when I start to play. It is always such a nice feeling to see a person who is greatly afflicted with Alzheimer's or Dementia to brighten and smile when I play an old song that perhaps brings some kind of happy memory to them. Hi There, I am a singer/pianist who entertains at Assisted Living Facilities and Alzheimer's Outreach Centres in Southern Ontario daily. I see the most unresponsive patients react to the music when I start to play. It is always such a nice feeling to see a person who is greatly afflicted with Alzheimer's or Dementia to brighten and smile when I play an old song that perhaps brings some kind of happy memory to them. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I think my mother might be father along. She can sill read. With a lot of help, large piece puzzels. It's hard to explain. She seems physically fit, but her hands hurt. She forget's too easily to do cooking. She can help set the table. All she wants to do is eat, read and (sometimes) walk. She no longer takes Aricept. She's on Paxil since my dad died last year. It has helped with her violent outbursts. I really don't know what to do anymore. Just live. I think my mother might be father along. She can sill read. With a lot of help, large piece puzzels. It's hard to explain. She seems physically fit, but her hands hurt. She forget's too easily to do cooking. She can help set the table. All she wants to do is eat, read and (sometimes) walk. She no longer takes Aricept. She's on Paxil since my dad died last year. It has helped with her violent outbursts. I really don't know what to do anymore. Just live. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

It was a helpful article to me. No changes necessary. It was a helpful article to me. No changes necessary. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I am trying to find activities for my husband who has dementia, but is still pretty functional; but has never had any hobbies except listening to music; so I am just looking for ideas and suggestions to help him pass the time. I am trying to find activities for my husband who has dementia, but is still pretty functional; but has never had any hobbies except listening to music; so I am just looking for ideas and suggestions to help him pass the time. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

i work in a Alzheimer's and Dementia care home and at the momant i am a carera for them but i got a job intervow has activies co in the same care home nexts turseday so thank u for tsome iders x i work in a Alzheimer's and Dementia care home and at the momant i am a carera for them but i got a job intervow has activies co in the same care home nexts turseday so thank u for tsome iders x Hide

almost 4 years ago, said...

Thanks for the great idea. Thanks for the great idea. Hide

almost 4 years ago, said...

My grandfather has dementia, and we're looking for a CD player. Headphones/earbuds are not an option. We're looking for something VERY simple, with a limited number of buttons. Any ideas? My grandfather has dementia, and we're looking for a CD player. Headphones/earbuds are not an option. We're looking for something VERY simple, with a limited number of buttons. Any ideas? Hide

almost 4 years ago, said...

I thought someone mentioned caring for a blind woman with moderate geriatric dementia, I don't see any suggestions for elderly blind patients with failing memory? I thought someone mentioned caring for a blind woman with moderate geriatric dementia, I don't see any suggestions for elderly blind patients with failing memory? Hide

almost 4 years ago, said...

My beautiful Mother has always been very active. Now she struggles to maintain some kind of normal lifestyle. My husband and I are doing everything we can to give her the quality of life she so deserves. So we will do some of the activities listed above as I know she will enjoy them. Thank You. My beautiful Mother has always been very active. Now she struggles to maintain some kind of normal lifestyle. My husband and I are doing everything we can to give her the quality of life she so deserves. So we will do some of the activities listed above as I know she will enjoy them. Thank You. Hide

almost 4 years ago, said...

I take care of a woman with moderate dementia and she is blind. Can you recomend any activities that would be suitible for her? I take care of a woman with moderate dementia and she is blind. Can you recomend any activities that would be suitible for her? Hide

about 4 years ago, said...

A variety of ideas using things you already know or have around the house. A variety of ideas using things you already know or have around the house. Hide

over 4 years ago, said...

Good information. A week ago today, we moved my mom into our home, having had a bad experience with a dementia care unit in an assisted living facility. I wanted ideas for activities that maintain her dignity and don't put her on the same level as my 3 year old granddaughter. Your article provided just that. Thank you. Good information. A week ago today, we moved my mom into our home, having had a bad experience with a dementia care unit in an assisted living facility. I wanted ideas for activities that maintain her dignity and don't put her on the same level as my 3 year old granddaughter. Your article provided just that. Thank you. Hide