Toys For People With Alzheimer’s


Bruno Bettelheim spent most of his professional life studying child development. Not all of his work has stood the test of time, but one thing I think he got right is the importance of play. He said once, “The child knows only that he engages in play because it is enjoyable. He isn’t aware of his need to play….”
The need to play or otherwise be active applies to adults as well, including people affected with dementia. The activity, the stimulation, a sense of accomplishment are all beneficial and therapeutic. It’s not inappropriate to give toys to people with Alzheimer’s. They might not be aware of the benefit they are getting from the play, but if you watch them I think you will see it.

Toys have never been just for kids

Toys for people with Alzheimer's disease | Box of Balls - stimulating toy for people with Alzheimer's

Bernice exploring her Box of Balls

When we select toys for children, the stage of the child’s development is the biggest factor in making a choice. We don’t bring home a rocking horse for an infant. A 100 piece puzzle is inappropriate for a toddler. And a rattle is not the thing to get for your primary school student.

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the person effected goes through very similar stages as a growing child, but in reverse. (Use this analogy to visualize the progression of the stages, not as a physiological account of the disease’s progression.) Cognitive, as well as social abilities, are slowly lost as the plaques and tangles that cause the disease spread through the brain. We like to think about it in this way: as the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer’s regains those childlike (not childish) qualities that make children see their world as a magical place; everything is new for children since they do not have much of a past. In the same way, the world of the person with Alzheimer’s can be full of novelty since he is losing his past to the disease. Without the past of his memories, without the future of his expectations, he is alive in the present.

Toys for People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Toys and games are colorful; they’re interesting; they’re fun. Choose toys that are age- and stage-appropriate; these will do a better job of holding the interest of the person with Alzheimer’s. The right toys will be cognitively stimulating and improve quality of life. (Read more about age- and stage-appropriateness in our Activities for Alzheimer’s post.)

What to consider in a toy

Almost any toy that the person with Alzheimer’s is interested in will be beneficial. Most toys will be effective for more than one purpose. The Tangle featured on this page, invented for a broader audience, is a perfect toy for people with Alzheimer’s. It is manipulative. Twisting and turning the jointed sections provides exercise for the hands and arms at the same time that it is relaxing, almost meditative. The bright colors and varied textures of each segment provide sensory stimulation.

Demeaning or Dignifying?

Toys for people with Alzheimer's disease | Playable Art Bal

This Playable Art Ball is a stimulating toy that is age-appropriate for people with Alzheimer’s



Probably more than with any other recommendation for Alzheimer’s care, the concern will be raised here about the appropriateness of using toys in treatment, or perhaps of particular toys. This concern is understandable. It is difficult to watch a loved one regress into a childlike state. Unfortunately, that is what is happening. That person’s interests and abilities are changing.

The arguments in favor of toys as therapy center around the patient. It is our firm conviction that stage-appropriate activities, including toys, enhance the quality of life of persons with dementia.The only really valid criterion for rejecting a toy or activity is if the person in your care objects to that particular toy.

Alison Mahoney at the Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia reported that stage-appropriate activities are significantly more effective in bringing about positive outcomes than are age-appropriate activities. You can read more about her study on our Activity post; in essence it means that a toy that was designed for a child might be a better activity than an activity that was meant for a high-functioning adult.

For Bernice

The first time Bernice ever saw a Tangle Toy® was at the dentist’s office. Holly had taken Bernice for a routine examination and gave it to her to occupy her in the waiting room.

Just holding it, Bernice said that it would be “relaxing to move it around in your hand.” And while she moved it around, her creativity came out. She told this story:

“Some man probably invented this because his wife kept hiding everything. This would relax him when he couldn’t find things that she had hidden.”

As she manipulated the toy, Bernice was particularly intrigued with the textures and colors, exploring each section of the Tangle and commenting on or describing them. Holly was particularly intrigued by the flow of creativity manipulating the Tangle inspired in Bernice.

Bernice, like so many people with Alzheimer’s disease, hid things. Hiding things is, in fact, symptomatic of the disease. Also, like so many people with AD, she often forgot where she had hidden them. It is very likely that tendency of hers had something to do with her story.


The great thing about toys is that the pull us into the moment. Once we get involved with a toy, our full attention is taken up with play and exploration. Anything that does that can’t help but be beneficial. The Explorer Ring was, obviously, designed and created for children, yet is one of our best selling “toys”; and whereas it may not be a stage-appropriate activity for most of us, it is certainly appropriate for anyone who gets enjoyment from it. Enjoyment translates immediately to quality of life.

Jean Piaget developed perhaps the best known theory of human cognitive development. According to his theory, the human child develops through four stages, culminating in abstract reasoning. According to Piaget, play is an important part of the process of progression through these stages.

Many have theorized that a person with Alzheimer’s moves backward through Piaget’s stages: Simply stated, the person with Alzheimer’s looses cognitive ability as the disease progresses. Observing someone with AD makes this idea very plausible, though always remember that he is still an adult, with adult experiences and adult sensibilities.

J.Thornbury suggests that not only does this model provide a means for prescribing treatment, but can be helpful in understanding the behaviors of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, behaviors that can often be disturbing to caregivers and loved ones.

There is an ever-increasing amount of anecdotal evidence reported in the news services and medical publications that dolls and stuffed animals provide comfort and often a sense of purpose to AD patients. Improved behavior, less agitation, better sleep, are all results that have been reported in programs that use these methods.

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About Author

Degrees in psychology and education as well as professional certifications in business administration and website development gave John the ideal credentials to co-found and develop an internet presence dedicated to helping caregivers provide exceptional care to those who are no longer able to care for themselves because of the impact of dementia. Since 2007, Best Alzheimer's Products has earned national and international recognition as a place to go for help and advice, with the goal of making life better for people living with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.


  1. I am looking for realistic british currency for my mum. She’s always budgeted her home and now she isn’t able to keep money in hospital. Please help.

  2. hi I work for a day centre supporting adults with physical disabilities and brain injuries, it is becoming more frequent that the people attending the service have been diagnosed with dementia… I am trying to put into place activity boxes to help with the stimulation of these individuals while they attend the service and wonder if you have any ideas that could help, at present the majority of the people diagnosed are at the earlier stages of the condition but I am trying to plan ahead to give them the very best of opportunities. Any ideas would be gratefully received. thanks in advance.

  3. I am looking for ideas like this that I can incorporate into our hospital units with the thought of items being cleaned appropriately to reduce infections between patients.
    Do you have any recommendations for me?
    thank you

    • Holly Schmid on

      Dear Isabella,

      Thank you for contacting us. We have over 400 products including games, puzzles, and alternative therapies, many of which would be perfect for a hospital setting. I’m going to send you a private email with suggestions that I think would be especially good. You should also browse through the online store to see if there is anything else that appeals to you.

      I hope that this gives you a start. Feel free to call us with any questions.

      Best Regards,


  4. Hi.

    A family friend has dementia and is now constantly picking her teeth with her fingers. This from a person who was almost a fanatic about cleanliness and manners before. (Also, she it almost totally blind.)

    What “fidget toys” might you recommend? Thank you.

    • Holly Schmid on

      Thank you for caring about your family friend. We started this website because we also were caring for our family friend. Because your friend has limited sight, she likely fixates on what she can, in this case, touch. Maybe she feels food in her teeth with her tongue and tries to get it out with her fingers. I would recommend a very soft toothbrush and brush her teeth after every meal. When you’re sure that her mouth is clean and you know she is just picking to pick, get her hands busy with something else. Be careful not to give her something that could be dangerous if she puts it in her mouth. We have several fidget toys that might be good for her. The OSM Doodle is one that you can view a video on: The Tangle Therapy and Tangle Original are also good choices: and All of our Twiddle Muffs are perfect for someone with limited sight:

      I hope these suggestions will be helpful. Thanks again for visiting our site.

      All the best,


      • Thanks Holly (I just thought to come back here and check for a reply…and you did so weeks ago! Thanks again. I will now buy the items you mentioned. And no, it’s not that she has food in her teeth…I’ve asked that many times….she says she’s just developed a bad habit of picking at her teeth and would give anything to stop. Hope your recommendations help.

  5. Jackie harrison on

    My mother is obsessed with money ,is there any toy fake money you can recommend we can get for her in her care home

    • Holly Schmid on

      Hi Jackie,

      Thank you for contacting us. We are in the process of adding a “set of money”. I’ll send you an email when we have it in stock.

      All the best,


  6. Pingback: Research and Resources | Song Spinner Music Therapy

  7. My dad has Alzheimer’s and I was looking for something to keep him and his hands busy to help stimulate him as much as we can’t any comments or help you can give me would be truly appreciated we live in the desert and Wellton Arizona so if you can maybe direct me to where we could purchase some items we I would greatly appreciate it

    • Hi Mitzi,

      Thank you for inquiring about activities for your dad. This website has the most comprehensive selection of ideas of any place we have found. If you are on the website and see something that you might be interested in, just click on it and you will be taken to the store where you can get more information about it. You can also click on the SHOP button in the upper right hand corner of every page. There you will find everything that is available.

      Please feel free to call us if you would like any more direction. We are open M-F from 8AM to 6PM Central time.

      • Please can someone help me, I am a carer in the UK, I currently am caring for a lady who has Alzheimer’s and it is rather advanced, although she is physically mobile, sleeps through the night and eats well, she has now developed a habit of chewing things, like chewing on spoons at the meal table, cups/beekers, her fingers and nails and in the night she chews the comforters, there are now holes in the corners of her bed covers. Does anyone know why this has developed? I am worried its nerves and anxiety? Are there teething toys for them to use as she has already cracked one of her fillings. Thanks for your time, hope you can help. Kelly.

        • Was there a reply to this question? My friends mother is also chewing through her clothes so I visited this site to see if any safe teething toys. Thanks Liz

          • Hi Liz,

            Thank you for your inquiry. We receive this question quite a bit and, until recently, had not been able to find a suitable solution. We believe that we have finally found what we have been looking for. We are currently awaiting samples of the items. Please check our store ( under New Products in a couple of weeks to see what is available.

            Best Regards,

        • Hello
 have chewy tubes, stixx, bracelets, necklaces, chocolate flavour, lemon scented for adults.

  8. Pingback: Gifts for Alzheimer's Disease and Caregivers

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