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How to plan meaningful activities for someone living with dementia

If your loved one is living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, they may struggle with certain tasks and miss being part of life’s daily hustle and bustle. But with a little planning, the right activities can empower them, keep them engaged, and remind them they’re an important part of your family.

Try to adjust your perspective,” says HopeHealth clinical educator Lisa Wasson, RN, CHPN, CMDCP. “Look at what abilities your loved one has remaining, versus what they’ve lost.”

Here are some helpful tips, plus 40 activity ideas to get you started.

Brainstorm activities: Make it personal.

The first step to planning activities for a person living with dementia is the same as for anyone else: Above all, think about what matters to them.

“When you’re coming up with activities for your loved one, meaningful is the key word,” says Lisa. “Not everyone wants to be at karaoke. Not everyone wants to do arts and crafts.”

  • Consider their personality, past and present. Are they an introvert or an extrovert? Active or laid-back?
  • Think about your loved one’s hobbies. Do or did they love gardening? Dancing? Prayer? Art?
  • Reflect on their work history. Can you adapt part of that experience into a simpler activity?
  • What is their best time of day? Are they an early bird or night owl? Plan their schedule accordingly.

12 productive activities for dementia: Look for helping roles.

“It provides joy to be part of what’s happening around us. That’s true for everyone, including people living with dementia,” says Lisa. “Your loved one still wants to feel like a productive member of your family.”

With that in mind, look for ways your loved one can participate in household tasks.

1. Water plants
2. Help with the care of pets
3. Clip coupons
4. Fold laundry
5. Rake or sweep
6. Be responsible for one step of a daily routine, like filling the water carafe for the coffee maker
7. Prepare simple ingredients in the kitchen, like shucking corn or snapping peas
8. Mix pre-measured ingredients for a recipe, like stirring blueberries into muffin mix
9. Help set up the room for a meal or event
10. Set the table or fold napkins
11. Hand out supplies to a group
12. Wipe down the table or put supplies away after an event

> Tip: Sit next to your loved one and demonstrate the activity so they can “mirror” you.

12 leisure activities for dementia: Find enjoyment.

When you tap into your loved one’s memories, creativity and hobbies, you can create powerful moments of connection.

13. Arts and crafts: Paint, mold clay, dye Easter eggs, make holiday cards, sand wood
14. Music: Sing, clap or play along using simple instruments; or just listen
15. Dance or sway to music
16. Play clips from favorite movies
17. Gentle exercise, ex. imitating large movements
18. Go bowling indoors using empty water bottles as pins
19. Play checkers or cards
20. Build a simple puzzle
21. Arrange fresh flowers
22. Talk about childhood memories
23. Look at photo albums
24. Create a memory box

> Tip: Even in late stages of dementia, the brain recognizes rhythm and music. Focus on songs from your loved one’s childhood and teenage years, which likely formed the strongest memories.

8 wellness activities for dementia: Prioritize personal care.

For a person living with dementia, personal care is a form of independence.

“These tasks represent an active, productive day for your loved one,” says Lisa. “By encouraging them to perform some parts of these tasks, you provide them with meaning. You also give them some autonomy to make decisions.”

25. Wash face and hands
26. Brush or comb hair
27. Brush teeth
28. Choose their own clothing
29. Pick out jewelry, hat, belt, etc.
30. Dress themselves, as able
31. Apply hand lotion
32. Get a manicure

> Tip: When presenting a choice, give just two options — for example, “Do you want to wear your blue shirt or your white shirt?” More can be overwhelming.

8 restorative activities for dementia: Take time to relax.

The brain of a person living with dementia is working overtime from the moment they wake up, as they try to interpret what others are saying and what they should or should not be doing. As a result, they become fatigued quickly.

So incorporate plenty of rest into your loved one’s day, when they don’t have to “do” or accomplish anything.

33. Sit outside to enjoy the fresh air
34. Listen to relaxing music
35. Receive a hand massage
36. Listen as someone reads aloud from a favorite book, poem or section of the newspaper
37. Connect with their spirituality, ex. by holding a rosary while they relax
38. Cuddle with a pet
39. Take a walk
40. Take a nap

> Related: Want more ideas and support? Join a virtual dementia caregiver support group.

Whatever activity you choose: Set your loved one up for success.

Every day, aim for a mix of the above types of activities. Be a partner: “You want to help your loved one with their tasks, not do it for them,” says Lisa.

As you try different activities, notice how your loved one reacts. Were they focused on the task at hand? Did they seem calmer after? Did they have a moment of connection with you or another family member?

By being observant and flexible, you can find meaningful activities at every stage of dementia.

That will improve your loved one’s quality of life, and keep them engaged with the people and things they care about most.

Learn more about our Circle of Love Dementia Care Program. For more information about Alzheimer’s & dementia care, contact us at (844) 671-HOPE or Information@HopeHealthCo.org.

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