Activities: the key to Quality of Life

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 suffering from Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia are entitled to have access to recreational activities. This is as much a moral imperative as it is an issue of care and disease management. Their activities, too, need to correspond to their abilities and interests.

What is an activity?

"Activity" can refer to almost everything we do throughout the day. Even sleeping is an activity. Here an activity will be 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 Website). Gardening, dishwashing 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 people with Alzheimer's disease

We have looked for activities that are suited to people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of 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 every patient. As the caregiver, the one who knows the individual's interests and abilities, you will make the choices. By sharing our experiences and making it possible for you, our visitor, to share your experiences, this site will provide guidance in that selection process.

One concern of many caregivers is that some of the recommended activities for people with Alzheimer's are demeaning to the patient. 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 is in agreement with this view. Bernice truly enjoys the activities that Holly does with her, even though they were designed for a much younger crowd. And that enjoyment is benefiting her physically, emotionally, and cognitively.

For Bernice

Bernice sorting beads.

One stage-appropriate activity for Bernice is these two colorful sets of lacing beads. In her case it is also interest-appropriate, since she was a professional seamstress. Notice how her particular personality comes out in the way she keeps 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 helps with the actual stringing process. That is better than letting Bernice become frustrated if she is having trouble. Handling the beads, exploring the shapes and designs with her hands and eyes is good stimulation. And when she does succeed getting a bead, or several, onto the lace, she feels that is a good accomplishment

Bernice with her bead creation.

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 forgets sometimes that she is 94, something that caregivers need to remember when working with people with Alzheimer's disease.

Bernice is 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. As a victim of Alzheimer's disease, however, it is 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.

Pattern Play

Pattern Play

Vibrant colors engender creativity. This is another no-fail activity that can be enjoyed at many levels and is appropriate for someone in any stage of Alzheimer's disease. If she has trouble getting the pieces to fit together in the tray, take the tray away to allow for more free-form design.


In Brief

A 2003 study by Alison Mahoney found that age- and stage-appropriate activities reduced agitation and increased positive emotions in participants from dementia-care facilities in Australia. Reported in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementia, the study concluded that, "activities that give a sense of purpose, stimulate the senses, and cater to individual preferences and capabilities," are important to improving quality of life for people suffering from all forms of dementia.

In the same publication in 2001, Benjamin Sobel published findings that, "Bingo, as a means of cognitive stimulation (in Alzheimer's patients), is an intervention that is highly therapeutic." Caregivers of the patients involved in this study reported that the cognitive benefits from playing Bingo often lasted for several hours, or for the rest of the day in some subjects.

Memories In The Making


Memories in the Making©, an art program developed by the Orange County Alzheimer's Association in California, has been used therapeutically with Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Observations made of participants of the program: "individuals... worked with sustained attention, had a pleasurable sensory experience, experienced pleasure as evidenced by laughter and relaxed body language, and verbalized feeling good about themselves and their accomplishments."

One participant, caught up in the creative process effected by the Memories in the Making© program said, "This gives my hand such pleasure." Surely this is recognition of enhanced Quality of Life.

We have now made the Memories In The Making program available through the book, Memories In The Making by La Doris "Sam" Heinly.

A review of 27 studies that took place between 1974 and 2005 concluded that exercise generally had a positive effect on persons with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Specifically, programs that were fairly frequent (at least 3 times a week, and preferably daily), and included walking, had positive effects on mood and sleep, and decreased incidents of disruptive behavior.