For decades—and even longer—dementia was associated with a diminished quality of life. We now know that is simply not the case: Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can live interesting, interactive, purposeful lives. The activities they enjoy might change because of their condition, but that doesn’t mean they are resigned to boredom, day after day. Here are seven engaging activities for seniors with dementia:
1. Watching an Old Movie
Remembering and reminiscing about the past are powerful drivers for seniors with dementia because they activate and strengthen existing connections in the brain. Watching an old movie is both relaxing for dementia sufferers and helps them recall what they enjoyed about the movie in the first place. And in our digital age, old movies (as well as classic television shows) can be easily found on cable and satellite TV, on DVD, or on a streaming service such as Netflix.
2. Board Games
Board games offer an activity for seniors with dementia that includes engagement, challenges the brain, and is enjoyable. Moreover, some classic board games may spark memories of playing those games decades earlier, which is also beneficial for mental health. The level of game complexity a senior with dementia can handle may depend on his or her condition, but chess, checkers, backgammon, dominoes, Monopoly, Scrabble, Battleship, Sorry!, and Yahtzee are games that most seniors likely already are familiar with, are easy to set up, and are still fun.
3. Card Games
In a similar vein, card games can also be a fun, stimulating activity for seniors with dementia. Besides the mental challenge and the familiarity with games they’ve played for decades, seniors also benefit from the social aspect a game of hearts, gin rummy, or cribbage provides. Furthermore, card games can be easily played with visiting family members, especially grandkids.
4. Music Therapy
A 2010 Boston University study discovered that Alzheimer’s patients were more likely to remember lyrics on memory tests than if they were trying to learn spoken messages. Music delivers incredible stimulation to the brain, not just to learn new things, but also to spark old memories and enhance personal well-being. Whether the songs played for seniors with dementia are part of formal music therapy or simply old show tunes or Elvis songs played in the background, at the very least, music can bring a smile to the faces of seniors with dementia.
Research has shown that gardening provides therapeutic benefits for all seniors, not just ones with dementia. The activity reduces stress, stimulates the brain (because planting something is a multi-step process), and is social. Gardening also provides a goal—the work results in flowers or vegetables that seniors can look forward to growing.
Many seniors with dementia are still physically healthy for their age, and their cognitive condition shouldn’t be a deterrent to exercise. In fact, research has shown that moderate aerobic exercise increases brain volume in older adults. Dementia sufferers may need some caregiver assistance in going for a walk or partaking in a fitness class, but the benefits are just as tangible as with the other activities detailed in this post.
7. Coloring Books
Adult coloring books are a current trend that is also gaining popularity as an activity for seniors with dementia. Coloring provides a calming effect and activates the brain in a creative setting. And when paired with music therapy, coloring books deliver a multi-dimensional yet low-key way for seniors with dementia to relax but also be engaged. Also, this is a great activity for seniors to do with grandkids, thus strengthening a dementia sufferer’s well-being even more.
Adult children may struggle with what to do with a loved one with dementia and want to ensure their mother or father remains happy, engaged, and comfortable. Today’s best memory care communities emphasize activities such as the ones described in this post and place a high priority on giving residents the chance to continue living life to the fullest.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you entertain an elderly person with dementia?
Depending on the person’s attention span, you can focus on connecting through shared experiences or activities. Take a stroll together, arrange flowers, bake a favorite recipe, put together a puzzle, or go through family photos. Take your cues from the person and stop the activity when they seem overwhelmed or overstimulated.
How do you keep someone with dementia busy?
Use the person’s past interests to help you determine what type of activity they may like. Physical activities such as dancing or walking are wonderful options, as are repetitive activities like folding towels, sorting cards, or looking at photos.
What games do people with dementia like?
Depending on the person’s abilities, you can explore games with easy rules or no rules at all. Try sorting puzzle pieces if the person cannot put together the puzzle or sorting cards by color and suit if they cannot play rummy. Take cues from them — and remember, it is about connecting, not about the end result.