For people living with dementia, boredom and a lack of mental stimulation can be really frustrating and actually lead to a worsening of their symptoms.
Simple activities can help keep them in high spirits and encourage conversation, whilst lessening anxiety and irritability. But for those caring for a loved one with dementia, it can become difficult to continually think up new ways to keep them entertained and stimulated.
Everyone is different and that’s still true for people with dementia. Some activities will prove helpful and enjoyable while others might not work out so well– it’s a matter of finding out which work best for you. Here are 10 activity ideas to try, taken from a blog on the Live Better With Dementia website. It has a whole host of helpful advice and information and also sells a range of products specially designed to help people living with dementia.
Help to write a life story or autobiography: For someone with dementia, recounting special memories doesn’t just relieve boredom; it can also boost self-esteem and provide meaning and purpose. Collating these memories into a chronological life story can be a very enjoyable and illuminating process. Many people with dementia can clearly recall things from long ago, even if their short-term memory is failing.
Read a newspaper or magazine aloud: Many people with dementia, particularly those in the earlier stages, want to keep in touch with what’s going on but find it harder to do so, especially if reading or concentration skills are beginning to falter. Reading aloud will enable them to continue sharing their thoughts and opinions and engage in conversations about issues that matter to them.
Make a collage poster with pictures from magazines: A simple art project can be really absorbing, helping to give a sense of being in control and in turn easing anxiety. Choosing favourite pictures from a magazine then cutting them out to make a collage poster is an activity which you can enjoy together and the pictures can help spark conversation.
Have an indoor picnic: Many people have happy memories of picnics, but you don’t have to be outside to have a picnic and reignite those memories. Why not make the picnic together, pack it up then lay an old tablecloth on the floor for your indoor picnic. You don’t need to worry about the weather and you could invite guests such as grandchildren to join in the fun.
Play ‘Name That Tune’ with some recorded music: Using old LPs, cassettes or CDs, play some old favourite tracks which might have a special meaning and see who can name them. Music is proven to have enormous benefits for people with dementia, stimulating memories of past times and experiences. Don’t be surprised if you loved one remembers all the words when you can’t!
Do a crossword together: Puzzles such as crosswords stimulate mental activity in all of us, whether we have dementia or not. Working together to solve a crossword puzzle can be a very rewarding experience. If a crossword doesn’t work for you, try a jigsaw puzzle.
Make a ‘memory box’ or ‘joy box’: Seek out objects which evoke a special memory or stimulate joy for your loved one and put them together in a box, which you could also decorate. Objects could include an old photograph, a particular tool they used for work, or a holiday souvenir – anything that brings back a memory or sparks conversation. Once you’ve compiled your memory box keep it handy as a tool to help you engage or restore calm if your loved one becomes anxious.
Share favourite stories and memories: Sometimes simply talking about past shared experiences or family stories can be very helpful. Again, physical objects such as old photos or something with a particular smell can help. DVDs of an old favourite TV series also provide stimulus, especially if you talk about the programme and the memories it revives.
Look at travel books and brochures and dream about a fantasy holiday: Whether it’s somewhere you’ve been to in the past, or somewhere you’d love to visit, talking about and even ‘planning’ a holiday can be a stimulating experience in itself. You could research your dream destination, including finding video footage of it online and becoming an ‘armchair explorer’.
Hold hands and be a good listener: While planning and doing activities can be fun, sometimes it’s enough to just hold hands in comfortable silence or be there to listen when your loved one wants to talk. Just your presence and reassurance can sometimes be all that’s needed.