While we love visiting with our loved ones, family members, and friends, interacting with individuals with later-stage dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease can have its hurdles. When memories and speech skills are impaired, our loved one may have difficulty communicating with us in the same ways they used to. But there are still lots of ways you can make your time with your loved one meaningful, and ensure they have the best possible quality of life.
What makes an activity “Dementia friendly?”
The main focus of ‘dementia activities’ is creating a task that is ‘failure-free’. This means you aren’t working towards a specific goal, outcome, or end product, but rather engaging in an activity or experience together. The activity should be fun, carefree, and without stress, so that those participating can feel good and build self-esteem while they are doing it. Whether a loved one is in early stage, middle stage or late stage dementia, simple, expressive, or repetitive tactile experiences can help to alleviate boredom.
People with memory conditions have a tendency to get more easily confused as dementia progresses, so anything with detailed instructions or directions can be tricky. You don’t want anyone to feel as though they are struggling to complete a new activity correctly, or trying to make something ‘just right’ so keeping it open to interpretation is key.
What are some examples of activities for people with dementia?
Knitting is an excellent choice for seniors with memory loss or dementia. It is a simple, repetitive task that tends to be easier for people with memory conditions to engage in. Tactile activities are usually best, and knitting engages both the hands and the mind. Knitting is also an activity that relies heavily on muscle memory - something most individuals with dementia maintain. Knitting is also something that residents can do for long periods at a time without overtaxing themselves. Using larger needles and yarn is usually best, as dexterity can decrease over time. Even if your loved one may not be able to knit any designs anymore, knitting row after row or simply twirling yarn between their fingers can be a relaxing and calming activity.
Puzzles are another fun activity that are a great way for those with Alzheimer’s Disease or memory conditions to stay engaged and have fun. Finding pieces and working to slot them all together is a great way to keep the mind sharp. There is also not right or wrong way to complete a puzzle, so it is a good activity that can be picked up or left at any time during the day. Remember not to choose puzzles that are overly difficult - keeping simpler designs and piece amounts helps residents complete the puzzles more easily, boosting their self-confidence and sense of accomplishment.
Painting, Coloring, and Art Activities:
While it can be tempting to plan out crafts with careful steps and instructions, offering free-form art time is a much better option for seniors with memory loss. Providing time for them to be creative without boundaries offers a sense of freedom and self-expression. Try abstract painting, watercolors, adult coloring books, sculpting with playdough or other simple art activity ideas. Finger painting is even a great option if holding paintbrushes or having strong dexterity has become difficult.
Learn more about creativity for older adults here.
Music is a great way to stir memories, make connections, and offer moments of nostalgia to those with dementia and memory loss. Sing-alongs, live performers, and time spent enjoying music allow residents to bond together and feel part of a larger community. Music is also a great way to spark a memory - play songs for someone associated with positive memories, or experiences from their past. Opt for upbeat songs to raise the mood, or calm, instrumental music when it’s time to bring a soothing vibe. Music can help in all stages of dementia and is a powerful tool for boosting memories.
You can learn more about music and memory here.
A memory box can help your loved one feel connected to their own past, and root them in a sense of belonging. Fill a box with items that reference important milestones in your loved one’s life. Whether these include photo albums from the past, a scrapbook, references to cities they once lived or jobs they once held, or items of significance, they can help spark stories and memories. When visiting, you can go through the box with your loved one and reminisce about times in the past.
Individuals with middle or late-stage dementia often find themselves fidgeting or restless. A great activity involves anything that keeps the hands busy - especially repetitive tasks that don’t take any active thinking. Tying and untying knots can be a simple way to keep hands busy, and emotions and minds calm. Again, it is a tactile activity associated with muscle memory. Let your loved one tie knots into a long cord or rope, or depending on their ability, learn different types of knots together. It can be a satisfying but simple way for them to feel engaged.
Folding clothes may seem like a chore, but it is actually a wonderful activity to suggest when visiting a loved one with a memory loss condition. Like most of these activities, it is simple and repetitive and focuses on a learned behavior from their past. Folding laundry can feel and is a simple chore that helps someone with dementia feel a sense of purpose.
Sensory activities are also wonderful options for those in dementia care programs. Caregivers may offer hand massages that can be calming and relaxing for those with later stages of Alzheimer's or memory loss. These sensory experiences are often paired with scented lotions that offer calming aromatherapy to create the most soothing environment possible.
You can learn more about aromatherapy and memory care here.
No matter what type of activity you choose when visiting a loved one with memory loss, it is important to remember to keep it simple, and fun. It isn’t about getting anything right, it is just the act of doing something that will provide a sense of well-being and joy to their lives.
Pacifica Senior Living has a wide variety of Memory Care activities and programs designed for our residents with varying types of dementia and levels of memory loss. We strive to offer ways everyone can get involved and be engaged with one another from simple physical activities to card games, reminiscing programs, art and craft time, crosswords and word games, and musical therapy.
Check out our monthly newsletter of events or browse your local community’s activities calendar to see more about our Memory Care activities.