For many, the idea of planning activities for those with dementia can be a daunting task, be they a family member or someone you care for professionally. There is often anxiety around what the sufferer can and cannot do and how far they should be pushed. Luckily studies into keeping dementia patients active and stimulated are more accessible than ever, and we're learning more about senior mental health every decade.
Like any good hobby or pastime, the chosen activity should be engaging, fun, and rewarding. Mobility may be an issue, as can focus, but with a little thought and planning, there's a large number and varied pursuits that people with early to late-stage dementia symptoms can enjoy. The power of music, the creativity of art, and the healing power of nature are all beautiful elements of this world that can be enjoyed no matter what difficulties someone might be facing.
Below we've collected 16 rewarding ideas that'll provide a sense of engagement, dignity, and fun.
Long seen purely as play or escapism, the scientific community has shown increased interest in video games' benefit to our physical and mental health. Gaming can help stave off mild cognitive impairment or even help prevent the likes of Alzheimer's. Grabbing an old console or iPad and a few games can help a senior engage with a colorful world in seconds.
Music is an international language, and despite the consistent changes in sound, technology, style, and genre, it's something that we can all relate to, regardless of age. Music therapy has been a method of treating issues like depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer's for some time. Listening to music from an individual's past has been shown to improve cognitive function, memory, communication skills, and general mood.
Art therapy is a common sight in nursing homes around the world, and for a good reason. Painting can help stimulate memory, improve people's moods, and provide a sense of achievement. For those who might find it hard to communicate verbally, some coloring or painting can give them a much-needed outlet to express themselves.
This ancient art incorporates cognitive, social, and meditation elements to provide seniors with a low-impact exercise that calms and focuses the mind. It can be done standing or sitting and is very easy to pick up for beginners. Recent studies have even been looking into its effectiveness for short-term cognitive function improvement in the early stages of dementia.
It's no secret that nature has the power to help restore and revitalize people, and it's an area that's getting more and more scientific study in recent years. The stimulating effects of woodland and all the sights, sounds, and textures it provides can be great therapy for those with cognitive issues - as well as a welcome break for carers.
Plants, in particular flowers, are fantastic at triggering memories in older persons. Vivid colors, textures, and smells will help unlock moments people have long forgotten. Creating a sensory garden or just filling a room with mixed plants can help brighten the place and create a calming and engaging atmosphere.
Arts and crafts have been used for years as a form of meditation, relaxation, and therapy. For those with dementia, there's no better time to get started with this, than when it's Christmas time! Crafts offer cognitive stimulation to promote and maintain cognitive abilities, which are only heightened when combined with the nostalgia-filled period of the Christmas holidays.
Sticky or velcro darts are a safe and fun way to enjoy a much-loved traditional game. Sticky darts can be played sitting or standing, making the game super accessible and fun for those with any stage of dementia. The game is great for mobility and coordination exercises and can be found more commonly than you might expect.
Whether you have dementia or not, sitting back and watching a classic film is an enjoyable experience. A positive movie or TV show experience from a dementia sufferer's past can enhance mood, promote socialization, ease anxiety, and bring long-term memories of old favorites to the surface.
With dementia comes problems with memory and cognition, which may shy you away from board games and their complexity. However, the right board game can actually help build simple cognitive activity, resulting in better memory. There are plenty of games to choose from, so make sure you get the right one to suit your needs.
Writing is a skill most of us are lucky enough to learn from a young age, and so much of our cognitive function and memory comes from recalling past skills; writing and poetry can be beneficial to those with dementia for these reasons. Charities like Living Words are pioneering these types of work and are definitely worth a look.
A bit of an obscure one here, but horseshoes is a simple game with many benefits for those with dementia. Those from the older generation might be familiar with the rules of horseshoes, but for everyone who doesn't, it revolves around players throwing horseshoes towards a peg in the ground. The game boosts mobility skills and gets people active.
Meals can be very sociable and therefore preparing a food activity can benefit people with dementia hugely. Meals are often nostalgic and remind people of happy times they have had. Even simple tasks such as setting and laying a table can help people to retain and use skills which can boost their confidence.
About the Author
Sam Walker-Smart is a British culture journalist currently based in Bristol. His work has appeared in CLASH, The Huffington Post, Vinyl Me Please, Barcelona Metropolitan, Little White Lies, and other outlets. He enjoys writing about inclusivity in gaming, fun for seniors, educational apps, and entertainment for all. In his spare time, he enjoys weird folklore, sad songs, and good beer.