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12 Engaging Activities for Seniors With Dementia

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Keeping Active and Engaged With These 12 Activities for Seniors With Dementia

Dementia can be a harrowing illness, stealing life’s most precious moments right out from under you.

It’s heartbreaking to witness and frustrating to experience.

Dementia can leave you feeling hopeless and helpless against the emotional and psychological effects. 

Still, you have the power to combat the effects of dementia with a few basic activities that you can start now. 

Keep reading to find out more about these 12 activities and the key elements to keep in mind when developing activities for seniors with dementia.

Table of Contents

Elements to Consider When Choosing Activities for Seniors With Dementia

It’s important to find activities that are engaging and geared toward your or your loved one’s individual needs. 

One senior might find an activity inviting, while another may find it boring. Talk with your loved one to find out what their interests are.

Activities for seniors with dementia should also be:

  • Structured

  • Purposeful

  • Routine

  • Sensorial; and

  • Individualized

12 Engaging Activity Ideas for Seniors With Dementia

There are many activities to choose from when looking for activity ideas for your loved one.

Where should you begin when planning good activities for seniors with dementia?

It’s best to keep in mind: 

  • The senior’s physical abilities or limitations

  • Group activities vs. self-initiated activities

  • The senior’s daily routine

  • What has inspired them in life

  • What’s enjoyable to the senior; and

  • The senior’s practical skills 

Cognitive activities for seniors with dementia should focus on:

  • Creativity

  • Sensory stimulation

  • Building social connections; and

  • Memory stimulation

Engagement looks different for everyone.

Senior Services of America communities strive to help each resident stay engaged in life mentally, physically, and emotionally through structured and purposeful activities.

3 Creative Activities for Seniors With Dementia

Everyone enjoys participating in activities they feel they’re good at — and success is one of the best motivators for participation.

That’s why the most fun activities for seniors with dementia are the ones that foster creativity.

Creative and satisfying activities reduces common symptoms of dementia like:

  • Agitation

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Anger

Studies have even shown that creative activities can improve sundowning and reduce the need for medication in seniors with dementia.

#1: Knitting or Crocheting

Knitting and crocheting are great activities for seniors with dementia. The repetitive action can be therapeutic and it fosters success in creativity. 

Even beginners can knit or crochet a scarf. And with more practice, it’s easy to graduate to sweaters and more advanced patterns.

#2: Making a Personalized Picture Puzzle

This activity is especially nice because it adds a layer of personalization and connection to the activity.

Make a picture puzzle in 3 easy steps:

  1. Make a copy of a picture that’s meaningful to your senior — like family or a special place. 

  2. Laminate the photo.

  3. Cut the photo into puzzle-shaped pieces. Be sure that it’s not too many or too small of pieces.

#3: Drawing and Crafts

Arts and crafts are an easy and effective activity for seniors with dementia because it promotes and maintains creativity through self-expression. 

Simple and safe arts & crafts include projects like:

  • Drawing 

  • Beading

  • Painting

  • Ceramics

3 Sensory Activities for Seniors With Dementia

Sensory stimulation is especially important for seniors with late-stage dementia. 

These seniors will typically experience large declines in reasoning and language but still have their physical senses.

Sensory stimulation consists of any activity that stimulates one of the five senses:

  1. Sight

  2. Smell

  3. Touch

  4. Taste

  5. Sound

Sensory activities aim to help seniors with dementia because they:

  • Provide cognitive and tactile stimulation through creativity.

  • Provide an opportunity for personal responsibility through the maintenance of a sense of self.

  • Allow the senior to remain connected and involved.

  • Provide opportunities to maintain and promote ...

    • Range of motion

    • Strength; and 

    • Dexterity 

… with upper-extremity exercises.

Research shows that seniors with dementia exhibited short-term positive effects on behavior and psychological well-being after sensory stimulation.

#1: Culinary Activities

If your senior was a food enthusiast, culinary activities could be a great way to spark their interest and activate their senses.

It doesn’t have to be anything too complicated. Simply helping gather ingredients helps seniors with dementia feel needed.

If your senior was a home chef, they may enjoy making a classic meal. 

An activity all can enjoy is baking. The kneading and rolling of dough can spark the tactile senses.

Fragrant pastries such as …

  • Bread

  • Cookies; and

  • Pies

… do especially well at bringing people together once the aroma begins to waft its way around the building. The scent stimulates the appetite, promoting healthy eating habits.

#2: Folding Laundry

Asking your loved one to help you fold laundry is not just a great way to keep them occupied — you give them a sense of purpose.

The familiar activity of folding soft fabrics along with the repeated motion can be calming. 

Factor in the classic detergent smells and this activity may elicit comforting memories for your senior.

Folding laundry keeps them happily engaged in an activity they can easily feel successful at.

You can start with easy items (like hand towels and T-shirts) that are small and easy to fold.

Remember ... 

It doesn’t matter how well or poorly the laundry is folded – as long as your loved one feels good about the activity.

#3: Puzzles or Therapy Animals

Having a therapy animal around can be soothing and calming for many seniors with dementia. 

In addition to companionship, unconditional love, and fun, therapy animals can help reduce the effects of dementia in seniors including:

  • Anxiety

  • Agitation

  • Irritability

  • Depression

  • Loneliness

And the benefits don’t just apply to our four-legged friends. 

A study using fish in aquariums for 62 Alzheimer’s patients found that the nutritional intake of the patients increased during the first two weeks the fish were brought in. 

The increase continued for another six weeks. 

Notably, the patients gained an average of 1.65 pounds and required less nutritional supplementation — thus reducing the overall costs of their care.

3 Social Connecting Activities for Seniors With Dementia

In the aftermath of a dementia diagnosis, seniors often find themselves feeling socially isolated and stripped of the opportunity to provide useful contributions to others.

Still, the ability and desire to contribute and build meaningful social connections is there.

Creating opportunities for engagement and community involvement to give back and help others are especially important for individuals with dementia.

That’s why Senior Services of America focuses on activities that promote social connections and provide an opportunity to socialize with others who share the same values.

#1 Community Activities

One of the most important things about being in a community is having the opportunity for social connections.

Some communities have programs to promote service and involvement between seniors and the residence or the general community in which they live.

If such programs aren’t available, volunteering is another great opportunity to get active in the local community.  

There are also small ways to encourage contribution to household well-being such as:

  • Watering plants

  • Helping with meal preparation

  • Setting the table; or

  • Dusting 

You can help positively impact the quality of life and health by creating opportunities of purpose for your loved one and allowing them to feel useful.

#2 Group Games

Playing group games can stimulate both cognitive and social interaction. 

Traditional games like ...

  • Dominoes

  • Cards

  • Checkers

  • Bingo; or

  • Chess

… can be a good choice for winter activities for seniors with dementia. 

These games can also be easier than learning the rules of a new and unfamiliar game. This can stimulate memory as they remember how to play from when they were younger.

#3 Outdoor Activities

Outdoor activities on nice days are a great way to activate the senses and get your senior moving.

There are several factors to keep in mind when planning outdoor activities for seniors with dementia, including:

  • Physical limitations

  • Risk of wandering

  • Transportation

  • Weather

  • Time of year

When considering the time of year and weather, there are added benefits of summer activities for seniors with dementia, like …

  • Vitamin D

  • Sunlight; and 

  • Fresh air

… which have been shown to positively influence mood.

Spending time outdoors on a pleasant day doing fall activities for seniors with dementia can also help relax and lower levels of depression and anxiety.

3 Memory Activities for Seniors With Dementia

Seniors suffering from dementia are more likely to lose the ability to remember names or what they had for dinner that night than childhood and early life memories. 

Most seniors with dementia can still recall things like their school years or wedding day.

That’s why exercises in reminiscence therapy have the potential to cultivate positive feelings by drawing upon long-term, happy memories. 

Memory activities can involve life experiences and stories from the past. This can also help establish a sense of value and contribution when they are sharing stories with caregivers who take an interest in what they have to say.

When creating memory activities, try using sensory or visual cues from the past to help seniors reconnect with positive memories.

Use gentle guidance and general questions instead of direct questions that could become confusing or frustrating.

#1 Mealtime Routines

Scheduled mealtimes are a great routine in themselves. 

The routine builds procedural memory and promotes community.

You can create an event out of mealtimes or regularly scheduled coffee/snack times.

Having something to look forward to can brighten the day of a senior with dementia.

#2 Singing/Music

Music can have a calming and soothing effect. 

Multiple studies have confirmed that music releases dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with feelings of joy and pleasure.

Studies show specifically that patients with dementia displayed a significant reduction in aggressiveness and anxiety after six weeks of music therapy.

Other studies have been conducted and found that music therapy can help seniors with dementia recall memories and provide moments of clarity.

For those seniors who have enjoyed music throughout their lives, listening to classics or singing memorable songs and holiday carols may bring back joyous memories of earlier days.

#3 Historic Activities

Activities that use multi-sensory items selected to stimulate memories revolving around your senior’s history like …

  • Creating a memory box

  • Watching old movies

  • Looking through or making photo albums; and

  • Looking through old magazines

… can present a great opportunity to get to know the senior’s life histories and values.

Even something that may seem as impersonal as old magazines or catalogs can help seniors recall days of their younger years — back when people did most of their shopping from catalogs and stayed up to date on news and trends with magazines.

Senior Services of America: Providing Individualized Care and Activities for Seniors With Dementia

Senior Services of America is committed to providing the best individualized care and activities for all seniors with dementia. 

By working together with families through thorough interviews to get a deeper understanding of the resident’s history and background, Senior Services of America continually modifies to find new ways to keep even the most disabled resident engaged

At each of our senior living communities, we are dedicated to ensuring your loved ones are receiving the best possible care. 

Whether your senior requires …

  • Independent living

  • Assisted living

  • Memory care; or 

  • Respite care  

… you will find excellent options all with customer-service friendly programs and activities designed specifically for the special senior in your life.

Find a nearby community

Senior Services of America

800-689-0493

1201 Pacific Avenue Suite 450 Tacoma, WA 98402 US