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Activities for people with dementia

From a favourite hobby to coffee with a friend, activities can help someone with dementia stay socially active and engaged. Enjoying things that make their life meaningful and pleasurable, like art or nature, religion or spending time with loved ones, keeps their mind busy and help them stay healthy and positive.

Here are some tips to help you plan for and make activities simpler, more relaxed and enjoyable for both you and your friend or family member.

Planning activities

Create a plan for activities to keep things consistent, especially if multiple people are caring for the person. You can also write down what calms them or distracts them if they get upset while doing an activity.

When you’re planning activities for someone living with dementia, choose ones that:

  • keep their skills active
  • make up for things they might not be able to do anymore
  • make them feel good and confident
  • help them learn new things
  • bring joy, fun and time with others
  • respect their cultural or spiritual background
  • relate to what makes them special: their job and skills, hobbies they enjoy, things they do for fun, places they’ve travelled or important moments in their life
  • make life meaningful, fun or peaceful
  • help them stay social. for example, spending time with family and friends, joining community groups or clubs, or sharing jokes or funny moments.

Pick times when the person feels at their best for an activity. For example, morning walks might be better than later in the day.

Choosing a variety of activities

Look after their mind, body and soul by incorporating a variety of activities. Not only are these activities good for their mood, but they can help with physical health too.

  • Try encouraging the person to stay active, as exercise releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. Go for a walk or get gardening. Play golf, bowls or tennis, or attend an exercise, yoga or tai chi class.
  • Keep the brain active. Your friend or family member might enjoy reading, playing cards or apps, or doing word games, jigsaw puzzles or maths exercises.
  • Get creative through hobbies like knitting, painting or playing music. Encourage them to go back to an old hobby, or find a new hobby.
  • Try activities that prompt positive feelings or help a person recall treasured memories. Some ideas include: looking through old photos, memorabilia or favourite books, or singing favourite songs. Pets can provide an emotional outlet as well.
  • Include sensory experiences. Listen to music, visit a herb garden, brush their hair, or consider a hand, neck or foot massage, if it’s appropriate.

Setting up a safe activity space

People with dementia may find it hard to see or move well, so look to create a safe and comfortable space for activities that:

  • keeps things tidy
  • reduces noise
  • has good lighting that’s not too bright
  • has comfortable seating
  • keeps things at the right height
  • is free of things that can break easily.

Keeping activities simple and easy

When doing something with someone who has dementia:

  • let them take their time. Some days, they may not like the activity. Try again another time
  • focus on one thing or instruction at a time
  • make tasks simple and easy. It’s okay to keep activities short
  • start the activity together. Sometimes just being together is enough
  • make a photo book to help them remember the fun things they do.

If you notice the person is finding an activity tough to do, there may be ways to make it easier. Here are some ideas:

  • If cooking is hard, offer to help. Peel veggies or set the table, for example.
  • When you’re playing a game, get someone else to help keep score. Or don’t keep score at all.

Creativity and dementia

Creativity is for everyone, and can give people living with dementia opportunities to get in touch with and express themselves. In this video, A/Prof Helen English and creative engagement specialists Maurie Voisey-Barlin and Margaret Rolla talk about how to use creativity as a tool to connect and engage.

Dementia expert webinar: creativity and dementia, with Helen English, Maurie Voisey-Barlin and Margaret Rolla

You can find the beautiful video of Laurel that was mentioned in the webinar here: OPAN Covid-19 Webinar: Laurel dancing.

Tips for enjoying art and writing together

Creating something is a joy. The person you are caring for may have enjoyed art or writing previously, or this could be a new activity for them. Here are some tips to help you get creative together:

  • Set up: Find a comfortable table and gather art supplies like paper, colours, pens or clay. Let them choose what they want to use. Invite them to join but don’t push if they're not interested. You can always try again later.
  • Get inspired: Keep things like shells, flowers or photos nearby. These can inspire them. Describe the items to spark memories or ideas.
  • Start together: If they need help, start the activity by choosing colours or drawing the first lines. But if they’re used to this, they might not need any help.
  • Help with writing: Writing might be enjoyable. You can help by using photos to start a story or by writing down what they say. Ask if they want help or want to do it alone.
  • Support their work: Be encouraging about their art and writing. Admire the colours or patterns. Treat their stories as creative pieces, and don’t worry if words are misspelled. Read the stories out loud.
  • Show their work: Respect what they create as their expression. Ask them to sign it, and then:
    • put it on colourful paper
    • make a card out of it to send to family
    • frame it.

Tips for enjoying music together

Music is relaxing. It can encourage fond memories and feelings of calmness and security. It can be a useful distraction from stress, and can help settle someone who is living with dementia. Here are some tips.

  • Relax and listen: Music they're familiar with may help to relax them. Try YouTube videos of their favourite artists, radio, music streaming or CDs.
  • Focus on familiar tunes: Music from their childhood or early adulthood might resonate the most. Find songs or tunes they loved back then. This could include music from a specific artist, religious songs, nursery rhymes or music connected to meaningful times in their life.
  • Sing together: Sing along to familiar tunes, with or without music. You could sing with your friend or family member while you’re doing everyday tasks like washing dishes or taking a shower.
  • Move and dance: Move or dance together to music. You don’t need to be an expert dancer—just have fun moving together. Sway side to side holding hands, or dance if they used to enjoy it.
  • Invite others: Ask friends who sing or play instruments to visit. Kids in the family who love music can join in too. Clapping, tapping feet or using simple musical instruments can get everyone involved.
  • Concerts or music groups: Check out concerts or music groups they might like. Contact local community centres or music groups to see what events are coming up.
Dementia expert webinar: music engagement for people living with dementia, with Geena Cheung
Dementia expert webinar: the Montessori approach to activities and dementia, with Wendy Henderson
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Last updated
2 February 2024