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Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, Health & Wellness, Memory Care

Activities for Seniors With Dementia that Will Give Them a Sense of Purpose

What are the right activities for people living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia? Finding the best activities for family members with dementia can offer sensory stimulation and the opportunity to connect with others while helping older adults feel productive. The main obstacles to overcome for people living with dementia are depression and anxiety, feelings of helplessness, a gradual loss of identity, and the boredom that typically accompanies a dementia diagnosis. The condition is progressive, and many people with dementia simply give up doing what they used to enjoy, losing their sense of purpose. But that only leads to sadness, depression and loneliness. Finding meaningful activities for your loved one with dementia is key to coping with this challenging disease, and worthwhile for both of you.

Moving Past Feelings of Helplessness

Though dementia can, in fact, limit certain abilities, it’s important to avoid something called “learned helplessness.” This happens when expectations about the capabilities of an afflicted individual become so low that they lead to an actual decline in their true abilities. For example, if you do everything for your loved one, they’ll eventually be unwilling or forget how or to do these things themselves. This growing feeling of helplessness is directly at odds with the sense of purpose you’re trying to instill. The key is finding the balance between offering help when it’s needed, while encouraging independence and self-sufficiency whenever possible.

Finding Dementia Activities with a Beneficial Outcome

Many people with dementia struggle with feelings that they’ve become a burden to the person caring for them. They want to help, but don’t know what to do. Even a simple chore they can manage easily will give them something to do and provide the beginnings of a new sense of purpose. These can be simple chores like folding laundry or sorting through a drawer to help organize the items inside. Even simple tasks like these can help people with dementia feel useful.

Finding purpose might be as simple as drawing upon what your loved one has always enjoyed. Did they love animals? Sometimes people enjoy cutting out magazine photos and making a collage or simply pinning them to a bulletin board. It may take some thought and experimentation to create activities that are neither too difficult nor so simple that they may offend your loved one.

Seniors playing games together

A step up from this type of dementia activity involves looking back over the person’s life and helping them develop their biography or timeline of events in a scrapbook. This can be very enjoyable for you and your loved one. People with dementia are often able to remember events from decades ago more easily than what happened last week. This dementia activity provides a range of tasks to do, such as looking through old photos and finding other mementos like ticket stubs or theater programs that are appropriate for a scrapbook. And as the scrapbook develops, the pleasure and satisfaction from sharing it is quite rewarding.

The best activities for people with dementia that yield a tangible outcome and purpose are in making things together — a cushion cover, a birdhouse, threading beads for a necklace. The sense of engagement and satisfaction can be very high with this type of dementia activity. Here are some additional guidelines for finding the right activities for seniors with dementia:

Focus on Activities That Promote Relaxation

Dementia can be a source of great anxiety and tension. Some people with dementia won’t be able to take part in certain physical activities, but this doesn’t mean they’ve lost their capacity for enjoyment. Relaxation through music, sunlight, warmth, smell and touch is always beneficial.

Sometimes the Activity is More Important Than the Outcome

Focus on how engaged your loved one is, instead of worrying about how an activity should be done or what the end product is supposed to be. People in the middle and late stages of dementia aren’t always capable of understanding the goal of an activity. Try to help them enjoy the process by being in the moment.

Know Your Loved One’s Daily Rhythms

People move through the stages of Alzheimer’s in their own way at their own pace. Be alert to signs that an activity may be causing frustration. Make some modifications or try something else if necessary. Is there a better time of day to try this particular activity? Are noise and distractions causing sensory overload?

The Goal is Engagement

Whether playing a game or performing exercises together, the important thing is that the person with dementia stays connected and engaged in the activity. Sensory stimulation in this way helps preserve basic skills — such as being able to button a shirt — and lets them function as independently as possible for as long as possible.

Senior woman listening to music on headphones

Activity Ideas for Loved Ones Living With Dementia

Remember to make each activity success-oriented, failure-free, purposeful and meaningful.

1. Music

It can aid in calming, bring back memories and generally add to the quality of life. Recorded music, sing-alongs, and name that tune are good examples of bringing music and song into the lives of dementia patients.

2. Food

Whipping mashed potatoes, peeling apples, snapping beans — these and similar activities can bring a loved one into the kitchen and the flow of daily life.

3. Household

Easy activities around the house may include folding napkins, setting the table, watering plants, dusting, making the bed, and many other such chores.

Senior man writing in a notebook

4. Intellectual

Creating story scenarios can be an enjoyable activity for loved ones with dementia. Establish a simple theme — a day at the beach, a ride in the country, a picnic in summer, a walk in winter — and encourage your loved one to flesh out the details.

5. Tactile

Older adults with dementia generally enjoy petting dogs, cats, rabbits or any lovable animal. Dolls and plush animals may offer comfort as well. Fabric books and activity pillows are other examples of touch-friendly activities.

6. Olfactory

Scented candles and hand lotions, lavender-scented aroma therapy, and the smell of bread and cakes baking can have a pleasant, calming effect.

7. Visual

Mobiles and interactive art often provide safe, interesting activities for a dementia patient, along with aquariums filled with fish or plants, and window bird feeders.

The Stayton Can Help

Helping loved ones with dementia engage in stimulating activities may not be successful every time. Be flexible and take each day as it comes. The memory care team at The Stayton can introduce activities to help your loved one with dementia stay fit, connected and inspired. Our music program, for example, is one helpful tool to provide enjoyable, meaningful experiences. Please don’t hesitate to contact us by using the form at the bottom of this page or calling us directly at 1.866.497.3788.

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