10 Stimulating Activities to Do With Dementia or Alzheimer’s Patients
Patients who are living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia need stimulating activities to help with their memory. Here are 10 stimulating activities you can do when you’re visiting dementia and/or Alzheimer’s patients that’ll keep them entertained while working their memory skills.
Have you recently placed your loved one in memory care? Are you worried that they’re bored out of their mind? Alzheimer’s patients deserve to have fun too!
Unfortunately, they can’t enjoy all the activities they used to. Grandpa can no longer drive around the golf course.
So how do you make sure they keep their brain active and don’t go stir crazy without overloading their abilities?
Read and help them with activities in this guide below. We’ll teach you the activity and why each works with an Alzheimer affected the brain.
Let’s get started!
The Alzheimer’s Brain
To understand the activities appropriate for someone with Alzheimer’s, you need some background.
You may have heard people call Alzheimer’s dementia, which is the bigger umbrella term for memory-loss diseases.
Of the Dementia umbrella, Alzheimer”s makes up the majority of cases. It’s well publicized, unlike other dementia diagnoses.
Alzheimer’s is gradual and gets worse over time. The disorder forces the brain to attack it’s own nerve cells, reducing brain function.
The symptoms are memory loss, language issues, changes in personality, and issues with judgment. Behavior may change and mood swings are common.
No two cases of the disease are the same, each patient experiences symptoms differently. For example, one patient may never lose their ability to speak but speaks nonsense.
Another patient may forget facts about themselves and remember things from their profession. Scientists think these differences come from which nerve cells get attacked first.
There’s no instruction manual (so to speak) that tells the disease where to start attacking the brain.
It’s common for the symptoms to worsen in one area before there’s damage to other areas.
If someone loses their short-term memory first, it will get gradually worse. As the short-term memory degrades, the brain will move on to other lobes (symptoms).
Brain Function: What to Know
Like we said above, no two patients are the same. When you’re deciding on activities to do with an Alzheimer’s patient, match the activities to their disease.
Generalizing activities is easier, but leads to more individual frustration – which isn’t fun!
Someone with Alzheimer’s can still learn, though it looks different than teaching others. They need activities that stimulate the functioning parts of their brain, to slow (not prevent) further loss.
These activities are things you’d do with children, like sorting, matching, and puzzles. Like children, people with dementia learn from practice and repetition.
For help with daily tasks, consider activities that help with physical movements.
Activities for Alzheimer’s Patients
Whichever of the below activities you choose, remember two things: short sessions, available often.
Like you and me, Alzheimer’s patients want to feel like useful members of society.
1. Household Chores
To kill two birds with one stone, let them help with household chores, things like mild cleaning.
Someone with Alzheimer’s can sweep a floor, wipe counters, clean windows, or sort and fold laundry. Whatever is appropriate for their ability level physically.
Most of the time, these tasks are in their muscle memory and will come back to them right away. If not, show them how to do it and watch them remember.
They’ll feel accomplished that they remember how to do something and it restores a sense of normalcy.
2. Go on a Walk
If your loved one is still mobile, go on a walk with them. It’ll be slow going, but getting some fresh air is always a good idea.
Fresh air is good for the body, but also the mind. People who spend time outdoors are more peaceful and some think outside time helps treat depression.
Even if your loved one isn’t 100% mobile, find some way to get them moving. This could be having them point out things from their wheelchair.
A little movement and fresh air will put anyone in a better mood!
Again, decide your activity based on their activity level. Plant work is another mentally stimulating and healing activity.
Have them help you water plants, pick tomatoes, or whatever you believe they can safely do. If you can’t get them out into a garden, work on small house plants.
Kitchen herbs are small and easy potted plants. They can get their hands dirty at a table, planting indoor seeds or repotting.
Once they’re planted, refer to these plants as “theirs” whenever it’s relevant. It’ll give them a small sense of ownership and achievement in their lives.
4. Playing Music
If your loved one played an instrument during their life, they can likely re-learn or remember the basics. Music is a great way to engage their brain and bring them comfort.
See if you can find them a piano or their previous instrument and let them play around. Encourage them to play and provide familiar sheet music.
If they can’t play anymore, ask them or other family members what they used to play. Play these songs for them yourself or from a device.
The familiar music brings them back to a less confusing time and fills them with joy. Each time they hear a familiar song, it’s like a small break from their disease.
Encourage them to move their bodies to the music, whatever that looks like.
Mental Stimulation Activities
Everyone loves to hear a good story. If your loved one can’t read anymore (can’t pay attention long enough), do the work for them.
Sitting next to someone and reading to them is a great way to connect. When you read, go slowly and stop every few sentences. You want their brains to absorb the words, not just hear them.
You can discuss the passage you read before moving on, to encourage active listening.
You may find they prefer the same book over and over. This gets tiring for the reader, but not for the patient. Try using different voices or asking different questions to keep from getting bored.
6. Watch Old Videos
Most of us have family videos sitting around on tapes or DVDs somewhere in our houses. These are much more personal and heartwarming to watch than anything from Hollywood.
If the movies are from long enough ago, some patients will remember the scenes. Even if they don’t, you can pause and explain what’s happening and who’s in the scene.
Engage them emotionally and be open with your memories of the event. Encourage them to share what they think of the scene. Even if they claim they don’t remember, there could be a lingering feeling poking through.
7. Old-Life Activities
Remember when we talked about muscle memory playing an instrument? It exists from their old jobs and hobbies as well.
If someone was a woodworker, they can sand down a piece of wood or carve something small.
Someone who used to paint will still enjoy creating artwork – though it may not turn out the way they like.
Bring them back to the old days and let their bodies take over.
8. Card Games
Again, this depends on their cognitive function and ability, but there are do-able levels for everyone.
If your loved one can play classic card games, great! This is a terrific way to have fun with them and pass the time.
If they can’t process the rules anymore, have them sort the cards into colors and suits. It gives them an achievable task and engages their brain!
9. Decorating Cookies or Cupcakes
The fun of making something and eating it is universal. Provide the Alzheimer’s patient with a base (cookie or cupcake) and whatever materials you have on hand.
When you set out these tools and decorations, think about their dexterity. Something like an icing bag might be hard to squeeze for someone with arthritis.
Generally, the bigger the tools, the better they can use them. This is a great activity to do with grandkids or younger family members.
It doesn’t take a lot of communication, but there’s the unity of doing something together.
10. Knitting or Crocheting
Creating something gives people a sense of accomplishment, even if it’s small or ugly. If they’ve done these tasks before, they could remember them with muscle memory.
If they’re not remembering or you can’t teach them, teach yourself. Then have them help you by feeding or winding yarn around their hands. They’ll still feel like they’re helping and you’ll do something together.
There are plenty of videos on Youtube that teach the basic stitches.
Treat Them With Kindness
No matter how frustrated you get with an Alzheimer’s patients, don’t let it show. As their cognitive functioning declines, so does their ability to control emotions.
Late-stage patients are easily upset and respond to negative tones. Stay happy, encouraging, and gentle in your words and actions.
You two will have fun together, even if it’s three times slower than you’re used to.
Did you learn something in this guide? Let us know in the comments!
Not done stimulating your brain yet? Read our guide about epilepsy and its symptoms here.