Recreational activities play an important role when it comes to defining our own Quality of Life. We tend to do things that are relaxing, bring pleasure, stimulate our curiosity, or expand our knowledge about something significant to us. Each of us chooses activities based on our interests and abilities.
People who have dementia need access to recreational activities, too; this is as much a moral imperative as it is an issue of care and disease management. As it is for the rest of us, their recreational activities need to be in harmony with their abilities and interests.
What are activities for dementia?
“Activity” can refer to almost everything we do throughout the day. I suppose that technically, even sleeping is an activity. For our purposes we define activity as something that is participated in actively. Manipulation of a toy or a puzzle is an activity. Painting a picture is an activity. So is doing Yoga or simple stretching exercises. Enjoying the smell of rosemary wafting from an aromatherapy diffuser is not, although this does have value for people with dementia.
Activities for dementia need not come in a box and be bought at a store (or on a website). Gardening, dish-washing and other housework, sorting old photos; all of these can be therapeutic activities. As always, make choices based on the individual’s interests.
Read more about why appropriate activity is an essential part of Alzheimer’s and dementia care.
Age- and stage-appropriate activities for dementia
We have looked for activities that are suited to people with dementia. However, since the disease progresses in stages, all of the recommendations you find here and in our store will not necessarily be right for everyone. As the caregiver, the one who knows the individual’s interests and abilities, you will make the choices. By sharing our experiences with you and making it possible for you to share your experiences with other visitors to this website, we hope to help you find the best activities for those in your care.
The concept of stage-appropriateness can be a little hard to understand, especially as it relates to a person who has dementia, who is not able to do the things he or she used to do. This video makes the concept much more clear:
One concern of many caregivers is that some activities they see people with Alzheimer’s participating in are demeaning to the individual. Alison Mahoney addresses this concern in a study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias. She maintains that, “stage-appropriate activities do not demean dementia patients when caregivers present play as a legitimate recreation and create a sense of fun and interest.”
Our experience agrees with this view. Bernice truly enjoyed the activities that Holly did with her, even though they were sometimes designed for a much younger crowd. And that enjoyment benefited her physically, emotionally, and cognitively.
One stage-appropriate activity for Bernice was this colorful set of lacing beads. In her case it was also interest-appropriate, since she was a professional seamstress. Notice how her particular personality came out in the way she kept her design balanced and symmetrical (below).
These beads are brightly colored and vary in shape. They provide visual and tactile stimulation as well as providing exercise for the hands and fingers, and the stringing process helps to maintain hand-eye coordination.
Sometimes Holly helped with the actual stringing process. That was better than letting Bernice become frustrated if she was having trouble. Handling the beads, exploring the shapes and designs with her hands and eyes was good stimulation. And when she did succeed getting a bead, or several, onto the lace, she felt that was an accomplishment.
Admiring the completed necklace, Bernice said that it looked “very professional.” Looking at this picture of herself modeling her creation, she thought that it was beautiful, but that she looked “so old.” She forgot sometimes that she was 94, something that caregivers need to remember when working with people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Bernice was obviously pleased with the product of her “activity”. Reflecting, she said, “It was fun to do. If you have something fun to do, you will never feel old.”
This is most likely not the way she would have viewed this particular activity 20 years ago. The changes brought on by Alzheimer’s disease, however, made this a perfectly appropriate activity for her, and one that obviously gave her the pleasure of accomplishment.
Incidentally, Bernice was agitated when Holly arrived for her visit on this day. Holly’s presence and the activity of creating her necklace made a marked improvement in her mood.
Our discussion and recommendations for activities for dementia are evidence based
A review of 27 studies that took place between 1974 and 2005 concluded that exercise had a positive effect on persons with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Specifically, programs that were fairly frequent (at least three times a week, and preferably daily), and included walking, had positive effects on mood and sleep, and decreased incidents of disruptive behavior.