Many of us have friends or family members who may have dementia or memory problems. Being a caregiver takes dedication and time. Offering meaningful activities for people with dementia can enhance their self-esteem and well-being. Finding the right activity requires knowledge of the person’s interest, needs and abilities.
Purposeful engaging is possible through simple activities. To determine which activity could be most meaningful, think of the person’s occupation or interests, what they enjoyed doing and made them happy. Always adapt activities to fit the person’s abilities such as mobility, communication level, and sensory processing. In their daily routine, try including physical including body movement, cognitive including thinking, and social activities including interacting with others, but also allow time for relaxing.
When offering these activities, keep in mind these suggestions:
• Think of activities that are stimulating but are not too difficult to follow.
• Give adequate time between instructions, and wait for the person to complete a step before giving the next.
• Plan shorter activities; people with dementia can find it challenging to keep their focus for a long time.
• Assist if needed, but do not complete the activity for them.
Activities that involve easy, repetitive action and simple steps are manageable for a person even with advanced dementia. It is fine if they might be more interested in doing the activity than getting to the outcome. For example, mixing cookie dough by hand might be a fun, stimulating activity for the individual, but they might not want to be involved in the baking part.
Try not to overstimulate, pay close attention to their reaction. If they lose interest alter the activity, switch to a different one, or take a break.
Some project ideas may include reminiscing, creating a memory box or a photo album with their favorite objects and pictures. If they can recall stories related to the object/photographs, write them down using their words. This will come in handy later when they can’t remember them.
Include sensory stimulation: try to offer something to taste, smell, see, hear and touch. Use bright colors, playful movements, and funny sounds to catch the attention of an individual.
Many activities that bring simple joy include:
• The smell of morning coffee or flowers and herbs.
• Traffic noises from the street, farm animal sounds, singing along to familiar music, reading favorite books, ringing of the church bell, sharing family stories or listening to a playlist of favorite music.
• Holding hands, touching familiar objects, petting animals.
• Watching documentaries from their younger years, looking out the window watching people go by, children playing or birds feeding, and car rides to experience seasonal changes.
• Tasting favorite food, drinking something cold or warm, tasting familiar spices in meals.
• Feeling the wind or the warmth of the sun on their skin.
• Helping with simple chores like sweeping, gardening, flower arranging, folding clothes, sorting items, washing cars or organizing tools.
Walking, exercising and dancing.
For caregivers, it is best to find the right time and place for you and the person with dementia before offering any activities. Keep realistic expectations; enjoy these moments spent together with loved ones rather than trying to finish the task. Use humor at difficult times, it helps to adjust to the many changes in the person and the challenges you face together. Take care of yourself, so you can have the health and strength to take care of someone else.
Meaningful activities that implement the person’s strength and interest could give a sense of purpose for them, strengthen their social skills, improve their daily activity performance and their psychological and emotional well-being. As dementia progresses, one’s ability to communicate and perform declines. Giving them other means to express themselves could help them feel safe and relax, improve their mood, self-esteem, and overall well-being.
Source: Penn State Extension; Social Care Institute for Excellence: Activity in Later Stages of Dementia; Golden Carers: Sensory Activities for people living with Dementia
Kathy Smith is a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent in Parker County.