Activities to do with seniors who have dementia

Monday, 11 July, 2016

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For seniors coping with dementia, one of the greatest frustrations is the inability to do those things they once loved. Activities and hobbies that used to be second nature might start to feel fuzzy or distant. This harsh reality can be discouraging for people suffering from dementia, as well as their friends or loved ones who are trying to engage them. The biggest goal when planning any type of activity for seniors with dementia is to make them feel successful. It doesn't matter if they play the game right or if the activity is even completed, the important thing is that they have fun.

Utilizing the Five Senses

Activities that center on the five senses are very important. Loved ones might not remember how to bake their famous cookies, but when presented with a lump of dough, it might be surprising at how quickly they start rolling it out, just like they used to. Muscles tend to remember things the mind has forgotten.

Here are some helpful ideas for creative engagement for seniors battling dementia.

The Gift of Taste

Cooking or baking can evoke so many memories and the activity opportunities are endless.  Here are a few ideas that will help get started planning a fun, flavor-filled experience for seniors with dementia:

  • Prepare a chocolate tasting
  • Sample different flavors of tea
  • Try tasting familiar holiday treats (candy corn, candy canes, peeps, Hersey’s kisses, etc.)
  • Taste different flavors of ice cream
  • Dip pretzels in various sauces (honey-mustard, spicy-ranch, BBQ sauce, etc.)
  • Prepare a fruit salad together and steal bites
  • String cranberries or popcorn for an outdoor Christmas tree
  • Clean out a pumpkin, roast the seeds, and have fun carving

Food can bring people together, as many experiences revolve around meals: holidays, birthdays, church potlucks, summer barbecues, weddings, etc. This activity is so much more than just the tasting; it is about the stories, laughter and fun shared along the way.

The Gift of Sound

Music highlights many significant moments in life. During birthday celebrations people sing around candlelit cake, they hug as they watch couples sway to their “first dance” and during the holidays a familiar carol can all but melt our hearts. These are simple snapshots of how music can draw out reminders of days gone by.
Here are a few ways one can engage a loved one or friend through music:

  • Sing beloved Christmas carols, hymns, or favorite songs together
  • Listen to music that means something to a loved one
  • Attend a local concert
  • Play the piano together
  • Watch a concert on video
  • Play "Name That Tune"

The Gift of Smell

Our senses have the ability to transport us to different places. The smell of fresh flowers might remind us of springtime in the country or a blast of spruce might tug at memories of childhood Christmases long gone. Using the gift of smell to engage someone with dementia is a wonderful activity, and there are so many different things to try. Here are a few ideas for planning a scent-driven activity:

  • Pick up a bundle of fragrant fresh flowers
  • Sample different perfumes
  • Make lavender sachets
  • Brew mulling spices and just let the house smell of holiday cheer
  • Peel mandarin oranges together

The Gift of Touch

Humans crave touch. Just as little babies thrive and respond to being held, as people age, their need for touch still remains. Something about a warm hand that is wanting to be held can make a huge difference on a rough day.

Here are some creative ways to incorporate touch into a friend or loved ones daily routine:

  • Plan a spa day and do manicures or pedicures
  • Give your loved one or friend a back massage
  • Find out if there are any therapy pets in your area and schedule a visit
  • Fold warm laundry together
  • Knead dough and cut out cookies
  • Weed the garden
  • Brush your loved one's or friend's hair

The Gift of Seeing

Visual stimuli can be a wonderful activity for someone who is suffering from dementia, especially if they are in a more advanced stage. Sometimes being able to see something beautiful can transform a difficult day. Create a space for a loved one that is colorful and interesting without being too busy. Don't bombard their senses with too many things at once. Try to focus on one bold sight at a time.

Here are some ideas to help get things started:

  • Bring in a stack of world travel postcards and dialogue about sightseeing
  • Collect different colored autumn leaves together
  • Wash fresh fruit together
  • Look through old photographs, newspapers, or magazines
  • Watch an old Hollywood classic
  • Create a still life and paint with water colors
  • Clip coupons
  • Dye Easter eggs