Self-Soothing Repetitive Activities Often Favored by People With Dementia

Does your loved one sometimes play cards obsessively or seem to lose himself or herself to some other familiar activity, like painting, knitting, or raking leaves, for hours on end? Caregiver Gary Joseph LeBlanc, author of Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness, calls this activity a kind of "safety bubble" that people struggling with cognitive trouble often turn to during a moment of clarity. (For his dad, it was hours of solitaire.)

A soothing, repetitive activity allows the person with moderate dementia to block out the worry and effort involved in keeping on top of cognitive changes. So if you notice your loved one engaging in this sort of behavior, don't dissuade it, embrace it. It may be providing welcome sanctuary at a difficult time. You may even be able to interest your loved one in developing such a habit.

Other common examples:


about 1 month ago, said...

Revised: These messages don't have dates, so I will say in less than 15 months, there have been 18.5 word search books completed by my mom. She loves them, keeps the wheels spinning. She doesn't do well w/ lengthy shows but loves watching baseball as well & is still able to follow. Find something that keeps them going, still feeling capable when they know it's fading.


over 1 year ago, said...

This article was very helpful in better understanding my Mother's activities. Last summer, she was bored and I couldn't find anything for her to do that would interest her. I bought some crayolas and downloaded some coloring pictures of flowers and birds to see what she would do with them. She started coloring immediately and now colors 15 - 20 pictures of flowers each day and has colored probably over 3,000 pages of pictures since she started last year. She takes her time with the coloring and has actually gotten better at it. It was a lifesaver for both her and myself. She says she is "painting" and works at it like its her job.


over 3 years ago, said...

MY WIFE SLEEPS AT LIKE 12 HOURS A NIGHT. IS THIS THE RESULTS OF ALZHEIMERS OR THE MEDICINE SHE IS TAKING?


over 3 years ago, said...

D walks aimlessly up and down the hallway. AND rummages for hours. I don't dare leave a box or bag of anything out or he'll be going through it. Good idea about the rummage drawer.


almost 4 years ago, said...

And feeding the birds????


almost 4 years ago, said...

I went to visit one of my seniors I volunteer to look in on, to do my weekly cleanup and housekeeping. I sadly noted that the house is grown a lot worse: spills left on countertops, crackers crunched all ver the kitchen floor, tea and coffee puddles dried to solid. I went to work, and an hour or so when everything was all back to neat and tidy (he accepts and looks forward to my visits every week) I found him, in the back studio. He is a retired artist, and he was going through picture frames, which were all arranged in size places at the rear table. Amid the chaos of the work area, there was that one spot, with the art supplies and frames, that was very nearly pristine! Then it came to me: as an artist, who had earned a living and created his life around art - that would be the very thing he would cleave to, in a time of anxiety and worry. He still has the ability to reflect on his own condition, and once in awhile as I am cleaning, he will come out, observe me, and say something like, "I used to do this all myself, but now..it's not the same..I wish I could still.." and heave a sigh. We are great and close friends and I try not to focus on what he is slowly losing, but on what he still has, and can truly enjoy - his art!


almost 4 years ago, said...

I never realised. Thanks for this insight.


almost 4 years ago, said...

My husband plays sollatire on the IPad for hours, now I can understand why, thanks. I was getting aggravated over it, so I realize I need to stop. It feels sad to me to see his life wasting away like this. How do I deal with that, any suggestions?


about 4 years ago, said...

My wife plays jigsaw puzzles endlessly


about 4 years ago, said...

My husband loves to read junk mail and emails from our children over and over and over. He also likes to walk around the yard. This seemed non-sensical to me until I read this. Thank you for the help understanding his behaviors are to be expected.


about 4 years ago, said...

My husband "reads" incessantly. He doesn't seem able to express what he reads. I used to ask him about the books; but now I realize that just makes him frustrated, so now I just let him read.


about 4 years ago, said...

My husband plays solitare on the computer until 3:00 - 4:00 in the morning, or longer, and I can't go back to sleep. I won't say anything to him about it any more as according to these posts, it is giving him some comfort. I just have to get him not to turn all the lights on when he is getting ready for bed as I also need my sleep. He will then sleep until noon or later. Anyone have any suggestions?


over 4 years ago, said...

I know i have not commented in a while but my mother is much worse. I have quit my job to be available for her 24 hours a day. Her repitive actions have changed now to straightening her blankets on the couch where she sleeps as we can not get her back in her bed. She calls us all by the same name, which is Jerry, my brother she lives with. She no longer reads the paper, can no longer speak clearly at all except to repeat what we say to her in short phrases such as I love you. Has now progressed to yelling alot, some hitting, which of course are the things we had hoped would not happen. But we are being realistic and know what the alzheimers means and we are a very close family since we all had a get together and talked deeply about how bad she is at this point. We have been told by the people we chose as our hospice and pallative care givers, she is in the final stages of the disease. All we can do is love her, make her comfortable, support her and each other through this ugly disease until God takes her home. I thank God every day for the days he gives us with her in the time she has left. A recent birth in the family was a blessing for us all and a new great granddaughter for her was an obsession for about a week but she quickly forgot and we moved on.....whatever each day brings we deal with it on a daily basis now and understand better what we need to do......pray for us and i will pray for all of you....thank you for giving me a place to go and see that i am not in this alone.


over 4 years ago, said...

I now recognize my husband's paranoia to open and meticulously read and re-read junk mail (political letters that ask for money).


over 4 years ago, said...

Absolutely....my mom folded laundry all day my friend who has Alzheimer's 'organizes' closets and book shelves....


over 4 years ago, said...

Whatabout watching TV -was not mentioned


over 4 years ago, said...

I would like to know if a loved one has dementia,but are in the early stages,is there any medications for it,and what is the difference between the two?


almost 5 years ago, said...

My husband seems quite happy to doze!


almost 5 years ago, said...

My dear husband has been cleaning out the storage area, and going through stuff I thought he had thrown out years ago. As he tells me of his finds, I treasure the moments and the memories of his sharing. Some days are very good and smooth, some days he experiences confusion or fatigue. Loving him and learning to love this stage of our lives is sometimes a challenge, but he is worth every minute of it. As for cleaning the kitchen, well why not, he enjoys it and I work full time.


almost 5 years ago, said...

It explains what I am seeing right now.....and makes so much sense! It helps me to understand and accomodate this person.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Am finding reading other people's comments about their loved ones very comforting. Thank you.


almost 5 years ago, said...

My husband is really happy doing nothing or falling asleep. He is willing to help me, but tires very quickly. He is 81, so I feelI that I shouldn't expect him to do too much, but I do get tired myself. It is like losing your right hand man.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Having this in my genetic history and seeing it in my father and grandfather scares the hell out of me (as I play solitaire on a PDA alot).


about 5 years ago, said...

My wife has this behavior


about 5 years ago, said...

With my mama, her repetitive things are looking at the tv section of the paper over and over and repeating it to me and my brothers. Also constantly looking at her pill pack, pacing the floors for no reason, etc. I have asked her to do some of the things recommended and she will not change her routine so I just tell her it is ok and let it be as all I want is her happiness. I stop and see her everyday about the same time as not to disturb the routine she is used to and this seems to help as well and I am greeted with a smile everyday.