Why are Daily Activities for Dementia Patients so Important?
Daily activities are very important for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Sensory activities, light exercise, and activities that stimulate the brain can all help people with cognitive decline to maintain their abilities¹ and sense of independence. Many activities can help reduce anxiety and agitation² in dementia patients which, in turn, can alleviate stress for primary caregivers.
Finding meaningful activities for someone with dementia can be challenging, as cognitive decline can make it difficult for people to learn new things. As the illness progresses, they may also lose interest in pastimes they used to enjoy. However, there are still plenty of ways in which you can enrich the life of a loved one with dementia. By finding activities that suit their changing needs, you can spend meaningful time with your loved ones and help to improve their quality of life.
Sensory Activities for Dementia Patients
Sensory activities can benefit people in every stage of dementia. Even those with middle and late-stage dementia can enjoy the familiarity of their favorite scents and sounds, while texture-based activities can help to soothe agitation and bring comfort to people with cognitive decline.
Studies have shown³ that familiar scents are strongly linked to a person’s memories, which is highly beneficial for people with cognitive decline. Odors linked to pleasant experiences can elicit a positive emotional response and may improve a person’s mood, alleviate depression, and reduce stress. This is especially important for people with dementia, as it can help them to tap into happy memories and connect with key moments from their life.
Aromatherapy activities for people with dementia may include the use of familiar perfumes, scented candles, essential oils, flowers, or food. By selecting fragrances with personal significance for your loved one, you can help them to revisit and reminisce about key moments of their life. This is also a great way to stimulate conversation, especially around shared experiences.
Tactile stimulation is another effective way to connect with someone with dementia and can help to promote trust, relaxation, and effective communication.⁴ Texture-based activities can be enjoyed by people in every stage of dementia, making them highly suitable for those with progressive cognitive decline.
Some ideas for texture-based activities for people with dementia include:
- Playing and crafting with clay
- Hair brushing and gentle massage
- Folding laundry
- Playing with different textured fabrics
- Handling and talking about familiar objects
Group Activities for Dementia Patients
Group activities provide dementia patients a valuable opportunity for social stimulation. Research has found that just one hour of social activity per week⁵ can significantly improve quality of life for people with dementia by reducing stress and boosting self-esteem.⁶
There are lots of group activities that can benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, though it is important to take their personal capabilities and preferences into account.
Listening or Dancing to Music
Music therapy can help to reduce anxiety, depression, and apathy⁷ among dementia patients, and may even have a positive effect on cognitive function.⁸ Specific songs can also elicit happy memories and emotions and can help to lift your loved one’s mood.
Listening to music is an easy group activity that can be enjoyed by people in all stages of dementia, and is a good way to encourage social interaction. Put together a playlist of your loved one’s favorite tunes and listen, sing, or dance together.
Organizing or Sorting Objects
Organizing and sorting objects is a meaningful tactile activity that can also be enjoyed as a group. This is especially beneficial when it involves items that hold significance for a person with dementia, as handling and discussing familiar objects can help them connect with their memories and maintain a sense of identity. It also provides an opportunity for discussion, and can encourage social interaction among those with cognitive decline.
Board Games or Puzzles
Games and puzzles have a variety of potential health benefits⁹ for people with dementia. Activities that stimulate the brain may help to reduce agitation and depression, and may even reduce cognitive decline¹⁰ in some people.
When choosing games for someone with dementia, it is very important to consider their likes, dislikes, and capabilities. Many people with dementia struggle to learn and remember rules, so it often helps to find games that are familiar and easy to follow. Some examples of suitable puzzles and games for dementia patients¹¹ include:
- Jigsaw puzzles¹²
- Dementia-friendly games like Qwirkle¹³ and Pickles to Penguins¹⁴
- The Bunco dice game¹⁵
Outdoor Activities for People with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Spending time outdoors has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and depression¹⁶. People with Alzheimer’s and dementia get the same benefits from outdoor activity as everyone else, so spending time in nature can help to lift their mood and improve quality of life.
Nature walks and Trips to the Park
Trips to the park are an easy way to spend time in nature with people with dementia. Provided their physical capabilities are strong, nature walks can also provide exercise and cognitive stimulation. Familiar locations are the best choice for people with dementia so, if possible, choose places they have been to before.
Gardening and Watering the Plants
If you have a garden, watering plants is a good outdoor activity for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The scent of flowers can also elicit pleasant emotions and lift the mood of those with cognitive decline, and gardening has numerous other health benefits¹⁷ including:
- Improved sleep
- Reduced depression
- Reduced stress
- Reduced anxiety
Feeding the Birds
Interacting with animals has been proven to reduce stress and boost mood¹⁸, and people with dementia can also benefit from such activities. You don’t have to own pets for your loved ones to be around animals; feeding the birds is a great low-effort activity you can enjoy together.
Indoor Activities for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients
Physical activity can be tiring for some seniors with dementia. In these cases, indoor activities may be more suitable. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to spend time together around the house.
Looking at Family Photo Albums
Family photo albums are a window into the past, and can help to jog the memory of people with cognitive decline. Putting together a memory book¹⁹ is a meaningful way to help people with dementia to connect with their past and relive happy experiences, and can help to boost mood and foster a stronger sense of identity. It is also an effective bonding exercise, as you can include sentimental items and photos of shared experiences to reminisce over together.
Cooking With Family Members
Cooking is a fun sensory activity to share with someone who has dementia, and can help to improve their sense of wellbeing²⁰, reduce anxiety, and encourage conversation. Pick out some favorite recipes for you and your loved one to concoct together and encourage them to participate in the process. Some suitable cooking activities for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s include:
- Washing and peeling vegetables
- Measuring and stirring ingredients
- Kneeling and rolling dough
- Icing cakes
- Cutting cookies
Indoor Exercise Routines
Exercise is a cornerstone of strong mental health²¹ for everyone, and people with Alzheimer’s and dementia can also benefit from physical activity. It is very important to take the person’s abilities into account when choosing physical activities, as many seniors with dementia have limited fitness. Some ideas for low-impact exercises you can do at home include:
- Gentle stretching
- Walking in the garden
- Housework (such as folding laundry and dusting)
For those with better physical fitness, you may also consider:
- Longer nature walks
- Light aerobics
Finding meaningful activities for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia can be challenging. As the illness progresses and memory loss becomes more profound, many people with cognitive decline begin to lose interest in activities they used to enjoy. Dementia also makes it difficult for people to learn new skills, which is something to consider when introducing new activities.
However, the benefits of regular socializing, sensory stimulation, and mental and physical exercise cannot be understated. People with dementia often find joy in familiar activities, so always take their personal likes and dislikes into account when looking for things you can do together²². Aromatherapy, gentle exercise, and games and puzzles can all improve quality of life for those with dementia. By finding things you can do together as a group, you can also encourage conversation and provide an effective environment for bonding.