Being a family caregiver is an enriching experience, but it can sometimes be challenging. Caregivers of dementia patients, especially, can feel like they work and work and work and don’t make a difference.
That doesn’t have to be the case.
Part of being a great caregiver is learning about activities that will help engage someone who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, regardless of the level of the disease. Staying active and engaged is beneficial for both physical and cognitive health and can help ease anxious or aggressive behaviors. On top of that, activities done together can help form a bond of trust and security between the caregiver and their loved one.
Of course, many caregivers are thrown into the role by chance and have no formal training or education.
If you’re like the millions of other adults unexpectedly caring for an older friend or family member, you likely have no idea which activities are appropriate for a dementia patient and which are not.
To help keep you and your loved one busy and engaged, we’ve rounded up a list of 60 meaningful activities you can participate in together. Keep reading to learn more:
Planning Dementia-Friendly Activities
Where is a good place to begin when planning activities for a loved one with dementia? A good rule is to meet them where they are. Some good guidelines include:
- Avoid pointing out what they can no longer do. Focus on options that compensate for skills they may have lost. For example, if your loved one can no longer read, try browsing together for audiobooks they might enjoy.
- Keep track of skills and abilities. Keeping track of the skills and abilities as they deteriorate is vital. For example, can your loved one still go to the grocery store and shop? Can they plan and cook a simple meal?
- Be aware of physical limitations. Many older adults, not just those with dementia, suffer from changes to hearing, eyesight, flexibility, and more. Some physical limitations may require modifications to activities, so they are still suitable.
- Plan appropriate social events. People with dementia often feel anxious or overwhelmed in large gatherings or in an unfamiliar environment. Try to set up gatherings with smaller groups or in a 1-to-1 setting to keep things comfortable.
- Focus on enjoyment, not success. What does your loved one find entertaining? Find activities that they naturally enjoy and lose your preconceived notions of how it “should” be done to alleviate stress.
5 Fun Activities for Someone with Dementia
Keeping in mind that every dementia patient has different preferences and abilities, there are some activities that all will likely enjoy. Some accommodation may be required, but here are a few of our favorites:
- Teach the Caregiver: Ask your loved one to teach you something they love to do and/or an activity they have known or have done for such a long time that they still remember it. Have them demonstrate a skill they can still do through “muscle memory,” such as telling you about what life was like in the past or something they are passionate about. Your loved one may need to show you, versus tell you, a story, depending upon their language abilities. Encourage this method of storytelling.
- Read a Book Together: Read a book to your loved one. Let them pick the topic area. Pick one with emotional and sensory content to help with comprehension. Short chapters and a great plot help, too.
- Hand Massage: Reduce anxiety, perception of pain, and difficult behaviors. Begin by covering your loved one’s hands with a wet, warm washcloth for a minute. Massage using a scented cream or lotion they enjoy. Lavender is a good scent as it is both stimulating and relaxing. Always be gentle – older adults’ skin can bruise easily. If you’re unsure of what to do, you can follow this protocol.
- Sniff the Spices: Select up to five herbs and spices from your loved one’s kitchen and ask, “I want to learn more about these spices. Can you teach me? Let’s smell them together.” Smell them one at a time. Imagine together what kinds of foods they would go with. Ask if they remember using these spices in dishes served during holidays and family gatherings.
- I Made a Difference: How has your loved one made a difference to others such as his/her spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, community, or co-workers? How did they contribute to their field of work? This is an important part of life review and can help self-esteem and life satisfaction. Share the ways you’ve made a difference, too, if this is helpful and acceptable to both of you.
By being aware of your loved one’s interests and capabilities, you can build a list of activities that will keep them engaged and encouraged. For our full list of 60 Meaningful Activities to do With Dementia Patients, please contact us at (908) 927-0500 or email us here.