Dementia is a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. With support and encouragement, a person with dementia can — and should — still engage in meaningful activities. Of course, what they do will depend on their age, culture, ability, interests, and stage of dementia, but they can enjoy lots of things.
As an essential service providing care to dementia customers as well as respite for their carers, we wanted to share the top 10 activities to help stimulate and engage a person with dementia.
By helping them take part in these tasks, you promote their health and well-being and encourage them to remain active. Just as importantly, you are allowing them to enjoy themselves and feel happy. Let’s look at the advantages of engaging in purposeful activities for people with dementia and some great things for them to do. Afterall, using your caring hands, just like we do, is a great way to show support to those that need it most.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is not one specific disease; it is a condition. A person with dementia undergoes changes in their brain that can affect their thinking, behaviour, feelings, cognitive abilities, and ability to perform everyday tasks. More than 100 different diseases can cause dementia.
Although it is more common in over 65s, dementia can happen at any age. It is not a natural part of ageing. There is no cure for most kinds of dementia, but empathy, communication, good care and, in some cases, medication, can help slow deterioration and improve quality of life.
How People With Dementia Benefit From Activities
Exercise and physical activity are essential to keep us fit and healthy and maintain our mental health and wellbeing. Exercise also improves strength and balance to reduce the risk of falls and helps us remain supple enough to perform everyday tasks as we get older. For a person with dementia, physical activity is also important to improve confidence, self-esteem and mood and help them to sleep better. In addition, recent studies have shown that exercise may improve memory and slow down mental decline.
By engaging in fun activities with a person with dementia, you are securing a better quality of life and showing you care by spending your time with them. Depending on the person’s symptoms and type of dementia, you could also be giving them something on which to focus, look forward to, plan, and enjoy.
If the weather permits, a gentle walk in the outdoors is a perfect activity. They may need lots of support and reassurance, but it will be worth the effort to enjoy fresh air, exercise, a change of scene and the sights, sounds and smells of nature.
If you need to be indoors, the person with dementia could use a walking machine or exercise bike. Set an achievable target to help them feel motivated, and they will get a great deal of satisfaction from meeting a set goal. However, before any strenuous exercise, speak to the person’s doctor and physiotherapist about what’s appropriate. Also, ensure they drink plenty of water and don’t overdo it.
- Exercise and Sport
Exercise can improve behaviour and reduce the wandering, swearing and aggressiveness that is sometimes associated with certain types of dementia. Try some of the following:
- Throwing and catching a ball or bean bag
- Football, passing a ball or kicking a ball into a goal
- Indoor bowls
- Archery using a soft archery set or foam arrows
- Swimming or aqua aerobics
When you don’t plan on going outside or being active, try some art and craft indoors. People with dementia often have difficulty with visual perception and coordination, but there are still lots of activities for them to enjoy. Colouring, Play-Doh and painting can work, and some might even enjoy knitting and crochet. Southare’s Knitting Circle runs every Wednesday in our social club from 10am – midday.
- Games and Puzzles
You can have a lot of fun with board games and card games. However, the symptoms of dementia can include memory loss, confusion, a change in personality, apathy and withdrawal and a loss of ability to perform some tasks, all of which are due to abnormal changes in the brain. What you do or play will depend on the person with dementia, but you can try checkers, chess, snakes and ladders, Connect 4, dominoes, jigsaws and puzzles. If you want to be competitive, you can use coins or buttons for prizes and see who can win the most.
- Household Chores
It might sound dull, but if you allow the person with dementia to contribute to the household, they will feel useful, which will boost their self-esteem. Let them have something that is their responsibility, such as buttering bread, pairing socks, setting the table or folding laundry. You’ll be keeping them active and busy, and they’re using their fine motor skills.
Gardening involves skills such as digging, planting, weeding, watering, raking and sweeping up — these are all things that most people would have done in the past. So, when you give them a chance to participate in gardening, you compensate for lost activities and help them maintain residual skills. As a bonus, they are likely to feel great about doing something worthwhile like growing plants and vegetables and making the garden look nice. In addition, they are exercising, and out in the fresh air.
Like gardening, baking involves skills that most people already have: selecting ingredients, mixing and stirring, icing and decorating. If possible, let them decide what to bake and allow them to lead the way with your full support. However, since dementia affects cognitive skills, they might need help with reading and following a recipe, cutting and chopping and using weighing scales. They might also need your encouragement to stay focused. Then, when your work is done, you can enjoy the fruits of your labour together.
- An Opportunity to Reminisce
Give them a chance to relive their memories, tell stories and remember old times. Depending on the age of the person with dementia, you could look at old books, magazines and photos, explore memorabilia and listen to music or audiotapes. You could arrange for a few people of a similar age to get together to share their stories, sing and dance. Remember that a lot of noise can be overwhelming, so be prepared to turn the volume down or calm things down if you need to.
- Pampering Session
Most people enjoy being pampered, but someone with dementia might struggle to make and attend an appointment. Wash or brush their hair or arrange a sensory experience such as a hand, neck or foot massage. Fragrant essential oils and soft, warm towels will make the experience even more luxurious. Make them feel special and at the same time calm and relaxed. They will feel so much better both physically and mentally.
See how we treated Southcare Star Stanley with a trip to the barber (and gave his wife some respite care).
- Day Out
A day out doesn’t have to involve a long journey or a stunning destination or even take up an entire day. Instead, keep it simple. Remember, they might get tired quickly, or too much stimulation could be distressing. Take them for a picnic or a dog walk. If they like animals, let them enjoy petting your dog or cat, feeding the ducks, fishing or watching animals in a zoo. Don’t forget to bring snacks, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of drinks. If they like to go for a drive, ask them if they would like to put some music on.
How to Set Up Activities for People With Dementia
Now that you have some ideas for activities, there are a few things to remember when planning and setting them up.
- For crafts, games and puzzles, it’s best if they sit at the table so they can be comfortable and focused. Make sure the table is stable and that they have lots of space.
- Use plastic containers and pots to avoid breakages.
- If you’re outdoors, make sure you have planned for the weather and mealtimes, and also remember that they may get physically and mentally tired.
- Keep it simple. You don’t need complicated rules to enjoy a game or be active. The most important thing is that they are moving around and enjoying themselves.
- Short periods of activity might work better than long sessions.
- Be careful not to overstimulate them and have a quiet area to go and relax if they feel a bit overwhelmed.
- Remember to check for allergies or other medical conditions — for example, if you’re using essential oils or planning meals and drinks.
- To ensure consistency, write a care plan and record what the person did, how long and how they got on. This is especially important if more than one person is a carer. They can see what helped the person feel calmer, what gave them pleasure and what didn’t work so well.
Whatever you decide to do, remember to take things slowly and don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go to plan.
Living with dementia can be challenging for the person and their carer, so please reach out if you need a helping hand. We are always ready to help.