Jul 09, 2024

What are the best activities for people with dementia?

If you’re looking for some ideas for activities for people with dementia, then here are our top picks 

 
 

Are you an activity coordinator, or anybody working in a care setting, and thinking of ways that you can improve the quality of activities you can provide for residents with dementia? If so, then you might have found yourself in the past struggling to think of ideas to do with your residents that are more than just repeating the same thing over and over. But if you’re finding it difficult to keep thinking of unique and interesting ideas for activities for people with dementia, then we have some suggestions that have been proven to boost the mood and quality of life for those living in care, providing outlets for meaningful and engaging experiences as well as strengthening the bond between residents, staff, and the care home community as a whole. 

It’s important to remember that some of these activities aren’t exclusively designed for people with dementia – they can be enjoyed by anybody living in a care home setting and have just as many benefits for them as for people living with dementia. But these activities are especially helpful when considering ways to improve resident experience for those with dementia because they address many of the difficulties that care providers can face when trying to ensure a positive, engaging and inclusive environment for those with dementia. 

 

Why are activities for people with dementia so important? 

It is vital for the physical, emotional and mental health of people living with dementia to engage in meaningful activities, to stay physically and mentally active, because it will help to improve their health, wellbeing and quality of life in a holistic way. 

For people living with dementia, it’s very common to suffer from issues like depression, lethargy, anxiety and social isolation because of the symptoms of their condition. These issues sometimes arise because people with dementia find it increasingly difficult to communicate with those around them, in addition to the fact that dementia may cause damage to the centres of the brain that regulate emotions and behaviour.  

With that being said, just because someone living in a care setting has dementia, that doesn’t mean they are destined to suffer from isolation, anxiety, depression or other similar feelings – there are many ways in which they can not only still experience a happy, fulfilling life filled with meaningful activities, but also maintain a connection to the person they have always been. This is why activities for people with dementia are so important; they help to maintain the connection to the world around a person, to themselves, and can even work to reduce or at least mitigate some cognitive effects of dementia in much the same way a body part can be strengthened through exercise.  

Activities for dementia help mind, body and soul, and that is at the centre of what it is to provide truly person-centred care for anyone living in care, where their quality of life is at the heart of every decision made about their care provision. And ultimately, it might be the case that a person with dementia might not remember participating in any of these activities, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t enjoy them in the moment. While it’s always a good idea to try and strive for activities that leave a lasting impact, a lot of what it means to deliver high quality care for those with dementia is just that – making a moment count for as much as possible.  

 

So now that we’ve looked at some of the reasons why activities for people with dementia are so important, let’s take a look at some of the best suggestions that you can try in your care home: 

 

Cooking 

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When considering activities for people with dementia, an important part of making that decision on which activities you should try is thinking about taking positive risks. If you want to provide meaningful experiences that are reminiscent of everyday life, you must accept there will be an element of risk involved. You know your residents better than most, so you will have to make that calculation on what level of risk is acceptable – with this in mind, one activity that you should consider is cooking. There may well be some risk involved, but there are few other activities for older people with dementia that are more powerful and positively impactful than cooking. 

Cooking has the potential to be transformative beneficial for people living with dementia for three main reasons:  

  • It’s one of the few activities that stimulates all five of the senses at once (which, as we know, it’s critical for dementia care) 
  • It’s also one of the most foundational activities associated with reminiscence 
  • It is the perfect activity to provide a sense of bonding and (as an achievable challenge) accomplishment, as well as an active contribution to the happiness of the community, as residents and staff work together to create something everyone can enjoy 

 

Scrapbooks and memory boxes 

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While one of the key issues when living with dementia is the loss of memory function, it can often be the case, especially for those in the early stages of dementia, to find it increasingly difficult to recall names or recent activities and yet be able to remember significant events that happened years, even decades ago, that were of particular importance. For example, a formative childhood memory or their wedding day might have happened many decades ago but will still be clear in their minds. 

Memory boxes and scrapbooks tap into this powerful form of reminiscence because it gives people living with dementia the opportunity to not only rekindle fond memories but spark meaningful conversations with other members of the care home community. This combines to create an environment of reduced anxiety and depression, of greater social bonding, but also it can help with memory retention. You can create a scrapbook or memory box of photographs of families or pets or special mementos of their favourite hobbies or important moments in their lives.  

 

Exercise 

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Whether in an individual setting or in a group setting, or whether it’s outdoors or indoors, exercise for those living with dementia can have significant benefits not just for the body but for the mind and overall level of wellbeing too. Exercise will go a long way to improving the mobility, balance and strength of people with dementia, and this can have a positive impact on their sense of independence because they are less likely to feel at risk of injuries through something like falls. 

Exercise can be especially beneficial when done in a group setting because then it goes beyond improving physical wellbeing and can also contribute significantly to the general sense of community within the home. For example, engaging in group exercise activities such as chair yoga, gentle resistance training or other mobility exercises can increase changes for social interaction, thus greatly reducing feelings of isolation. Not only this, but people living with dementia can sometimes suffer with agitation, so it can also give them an outlet for physical expression and something into which they can channel their physical energy. 

For outdoor exercises, there is a similar mix of physical, mental and emotional benefits. Activities like gentle walking in the garden or in nature can boost overall health and wellbeing because of the chance to get out in the fresh air and the sunlight, as well as promoting opportunities for sensory stimulation by having the chance to feel the wind, touch the trees or hear the birds singing as well as admiring the views. It could also help to rekindle fond memories of time spent in nature. 

 

Painting, drawing, arts and crafts 

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While there is no cure for dementia, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t effective strategies you can employ to slow down and minimise the process of cognitive decline as much as possible. One of the major factors behind the decline of wellbeing that usually comes with a degeneration of cognitive abilities is the diminishing ability to communicate. People with dementia can often suffer a lack of connection with those around them because they find it more difficult to communicate effectively – to express how they are thinking and feeling.  

There are many non-verbal ways in which someone with dementia can effectively express themselves and communicate their feelings, and harnessing creativity can be a very effective way of encouraging this, because finding ways to reach them is only part of the process; finding ways for them to reach you is what will really make the difference.  

To do this, you should consider activities like painting, drawing, and general arts and crafts to give people with dementia a great way to engage with and express their thoughts and feelings in ways that do not rely on verbal communication. Beyond that, it’s a great way of improving hand-eye coordination, creative thinking and general mental stimulation. We want to prioritise mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing, but one aspect of wellbeing care that can sometimes be overlooked is intellectual wellbeing. Giving people with dementia an outlet to create something is a great way to boost intellectual stimulation as well as every other aspect of wellbeing.

 

Dancing 

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Similar to exercise, dancing, especially dance classes that are specifically tailored to older adults with dementia, can be a great and fun outlet for improving overall fitness and health, alongside improving community activities and engaging with their senses. It also gives older people the chance to reminisce about fond memories of dancing in previous times in their lives.  

 

Music therapy 

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Whether it’s listening to music or singing along to music in a group or individual setting, engaging in music therapy can have a transformative effect on the wellbeing of people living with dementia in care settings. Several studies have shown that music can help to maintain a strong connection the memory centres of a person’s brain, and for so many, if not all of us, music plays a strong part in our memories.  

Whether it’s a concert, a wedding, a party or any particular moment of significance, more often than not we have a song attached to that memory, so encouraging residents to listen to music or even sing along with music will help them to maintain a connection to fond memories of their favourite songs and also foster a sense of community spirit and fun.  

 

Puzzles and quizzes 

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For those living with dementia, puzzles and quizzes should be seen as a workout for the brain – fun, enjoyable, but challenging. Just like any muscle, the brain needs to be stimulated in order to stay healthy, and you can do this by helping your residents to engage with puzzles and quizzes that hit the sweet spot between being challenging enough to really give the brain a workout and elicit a sense of real accomplishment when completed, but not so challenging that the people in question aren’t able to complete it, which can have the opposite of the desired effect.  

Puzzles in particular that focus on brain training are one of the most significant tools you have to provide a stimulating, engaging environment for people living with dementia – especially those in the early stages of dementia.  

Another great thing about puzzles is how versatile the activity is. For example, you may have a person you care for that prefers to do activities alone, or you may have some people in your care home that prefer to do activities together – puzzles can be enjoyed either individually or collectively, and can be tailored to the personal interests of the people in the care home. This is also true of quizzes, which offer a fun and engaging activity that allows people with dementia to test and train their memory retention abilities. It can also potentially elicit an enormous sense of accomplishment if a person with dementia who fears losing their memories is able to recall the answers to quiz questions. And, like puzzles, it is a perfect way to foster community engagement as people can discuss answers and work together. 

 

Our resident experience and learning & development solutions 

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Above are just some of the best ways to provide meaningful, engaging and enjoyable activities for those living with dementia, but there are so many more options available with the Oomph! On-Demand Wellbeing & Activities Platform (part of our resident experience solution area), which has over 3,000 activities specifically tailored to older adults and designed by experts in wellbeing, exercise, nutrition and dementia. The platform will offer you endless ideas when it comes to providing activities that are proven to increase the quality of life for people living and working in care. 

But we also offer many solutions for learning and development, and with the Oomph! Wellbeing & Activities Training for Staff, you can be sure that you are always up to date with the latest best practices when it comes to wellbeing care provision. With our learning and development solutions, you can sharpen the skills you already have and develop your skills and experiences in all new areas, meaning that your residents will always be benefiting from the knowledge you gain. 

Just click here to book a consultation to find out more about the Oomph! Wellbeing & Activities Platform and the Wellbeing & Activities Training for Staff.  

July 9, 2024

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