For people who are suffering from an advanced form of dementia or Alzheimer’s, boredom can be one of the most frustrating and damaging components of their day. Dementia patients who suffer from low stimulation also often suffer from increased instances of depression, irritability, and anxiety. Providing activities for dementia patients in aged care can help engage them in their surroundings, bring them some relief and pleasure, and encourage memory recovery and moments of lucidity.
Whether your loved one is at home, receiving specialized in-home care, or is in a memory care facility, there are simple and specially-designed activities o boost cognitive function that you can employ to brighten and enrich your loved one’s life. These activities should encompass one or all of these aims:
- Bring up memories
- Allow reminiscence
- Foster emotional connections with loved ones or friends
- Encourage self-expression
- Encourage productivity and/or purpose
- Engage them in their surroundings or everyday activities
We’ve gathered a list of some of our favorite activities for dementia patients in aged care or at home. We encourage you to try them all and see what works best for your loved one—just be careful to space them out so you don't overwhelm them!
Activities for Dementia Patients in Aged Care
1. Physical Activity/Exercise
Obviously, this activity will depend entirely on your loved one’s mobility and diagnosis. But if they are able, exercise is vital to their care program. Just like the rest of us, senior citizens need physical activity to clear the mind and use and strengthen the muscles. Physical activity—even if it’s just walking—can also provide dopamine and other endorphins that make us feel happy and relaxed.
Walking as little as ten to twenty minutes a day can help lessen the symptoms of depression, relieve frustration, and improve sleep and mental clarity. People with dementia often have symptoms that worsen at night and struggle with restlessness and sleeplessness. Physical activity helps regulate the signals in our brains that tell us it’s time to sleep and wears out our physical bodies. The activity doesn’t have to be intense—never push your loved one past their endurance or comfort level. But if they are able, these activities may help:
- Walking in a familiar park or neighborhood
- A stationary bike in front of a window
- Water aerobics
- Lifting with small weights (they sell one and two-pound dumbbells online and in stores)
- Dancing to familiar music
- Tai Chi
* some of these aerobic options might have a seated adaption.
If you’re struggling to find activities that your loved one will enjoy, contact Area Agency on Aging. They likely have a whole calendar of activities for seniors in your area—and as a bonus, that also helps with socializing!
2. Cooking and Baking
Depending on the level of your loved one’s dementia, cooking and baking can be a wonderful way to relax, feel productive, and be social. And afterward, you get to eat your treats together! While you should be in the kitchen with them the entire time and watch carefully, it’s important to let them do as much of the work as is safe and possible.
This can be an especially helpful activity for the senior citizens who spent their lives homemaking or taking on the majority of the cooking. Muscle memory often takes over and brings back sensory memories of making similar recipes. If your loved one had a specialty or favorite recipe, try that together as long as it’s not complex enough to cause frustration or create a risk to their safety.
You may find that your mother ends up taking over the kitchen by the time the cookies are going in the oven! But if not, don’t despair, you’re still providing your loved one with purposeful activity and enjoyable socialization and that is priceless.
3. Reminisce Strategically
For people with dementia, long-term memory is often much easier to access than short-term memory. That’s why their children’s names are easier to recall than their grandchildren’s and why they may suddenly tell a story about a friend from decades before as if they had seen them yesterday. Even if they struggle with fine points and details, often, being able to talk about it at their own pace and reminisce with aids can help them slow the loss of their memories. This is also a wonderful opportunity to talk to your loved one about their past and learn more about them.
To help jog their memories, some of the following aids may be helpful while you chat:
- Interview your loved one using a video recorder
- Ask them specific questions about their life, childhood, family, etc.—let them answer at their own pace and try not to say “remember that?”, which can add pressure
- Look through photos together - especially if you have an album they put together—have them turn the pages themselves and ask questions about photos they linger on
- Watch family videos together and answer their questions as naturally and patiently as possible
- Ask them about their favorite holidays, music and food
4. Music Therapy
Music is a powerful memory conduit. We’re often listening to music during the most important moments in our lives—from a wedding march to a lullaby to a holiday carol. Music provides comfort and sets patterns to our words and thoughts in ways that make them easier to remember. Just like we sing “clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere” with our children, music fixes thoughts and ideas in our minds throughout our lives.
Have you ever tried to remember the words to a song in vain, but started singing along word-for-word the moment you actually played it? The same thing can happen with memories for those with dementia. Try some of these exercises and see what happens:
- Listen to their favorite band or singer together
- Make a playlist of their favorite genres and artists
- Show them videos of their favorites performing live
- Hum a few bars of their favorite song and encourage them to sing with you
Even playing music in the background while you do other activities together can help dementia patients function a little more clearly. Try playing similar music at the same time every day to signify different activities. As their dementia worsens, this can help soothe them and bolster routines when they’re upset.
Dementia Care in Arkansas
There are so many other activities you can do with your loved one to help improve their cognitive function and ease their depression or discomfort. Animal therapy, crosswords and games, arts, and crafts—really anything that engages the mind and creates the opportunity for self-expression and connection will benefit your loved one greatly.
If you are looking for dementia care in Arkansas or you would like to learn more about activities for dementia patients in aged care, contact your Area Agency on Aging. They will be able to put you in touch with resources and programs that will help you care for your loved one and improve their quality of life overall.