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Activities That Give Meaning to People with Dementia

Senior woman playing a puzzle game

We all enjoy doing things that provide us with a sense of purpose. And just because your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia, at Atlantic Shores we believe they can still enjoy a good quality of life. This blog post will offer activities for people with dementia that can help you and your family member continue to make meaningful connections by focusing on:

  • Maintaining residual skills
  • Compensating for lost activities
  • Promoting self-esteem and empowering the individual
  • Keeping the mind stimulated and encouraging new learning
  • Providing opportunities for enjoyment, pleasure and social contact

As you decide which activities works best for your loved one, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Tap into the past: Consider your family member’s work history, hobbies, recreational and social interests, travel, and significant life events.
  • Chores are OK: Activities can allow your loved one to contribute to the household and feel useful. Give htem area of responsibility, no matter how small.
  • Go slow: Give the time and space necessary to allow the person to do as much as possible. Focus on one thing at a time. Break down activities into simple, manageable steps. Communicate one instruction at a time.
  • Stay safe: People with dementia often have difficulty with visual perception and coordination, so make sure that work spaces are uncluttered with few distractions and noise and have good lighting.
  • Be flexible: Activities can change day to day or be tried another time if not successful or enjoyable.
  • Time management: To ensure maximum success, it’s best to consider the times of day when your loved one is at their best.
  • Limit stimulation: Some people with dementia find that being among large groups of people can be overwhelming. If this is true with your family member, avoid crowds, constant movement and noise.
  • Be positive: Mistakes can happen, so it’s very important that you don’t let the person with dementia ever feel like a failure. It’s also important to encourage activities that provide mental stimulation, and promote better health and well-being.

Activities for People with Dementia

“Activities” can be defined as either passive — where your loved one watches — or active — where two or more people are doing something together.

Keep it simple

Simple activities familiar to your loved one are relatively easier to follow and can help your family member with dementia feel productive.

Activities to consider:

  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Crosswords
  • Dominoes
  • Simple board games like Chutes and Ladders, and Candyland
  • Have an afternoon picnic or tea party
  • Sorting a deck of cards by suit

Household help

Like all of us, seniors with dementia enjoy the feeling of a job well done. Doing daily activities around the house can help your loved one feel productive and give them a sense of purpose.

Activities to consider:

  • Folding laundry
  • Pairing socks
  • Sweeping or vacuuming
  • Wiping off the table
  • Organizing household or office items
  • Dusting
  • Watering houseplants

Be creative

Even if your family member was never particularly artsy or creative, arts and crafts can provide a wide range of sensory stimulation.

Activities to consider:

  • Painting
  • Knitting or crocheting
  • Coloring
  • Cutting out pictures
  • Decorating placemats
  • Playing with modeling clay
  • Arranging flowers
  • Creating a memory box by putting favorite objects, old photos or workplace items in a box
  • Making a bead necklace

Get moving

A sense of movement and rhythm is often retained longer than most abilities. Even mild exertion can help maintain a positive mood and lower the risk of developing depression.

Activities to consider:

  • Walking around the neighborhood or a local park
  • Water aerobics – Health and fitness centers often have workshops and classes specifically for older adults or people with dementia.
  • Dancing – If your loved one has good balance, put on some stimulating music and have them follow the rhythm. They could also try chair dancing and moving to the music while sitting.

Adventure time

Taking a daytrip is a great way to combat boredom, and it  provides a variety of physical and sensory stimulation. Planning for your excursion gives your loved one a sense of purpose and offers a chance to exercise.

Activities to consider:

  • Going shopping together
  • Visiting some of their  favorite places in town
  • Taking a trip to a local place of interest
  • Spending an afternoon in the park
  • Visiting a local museum or art studio

Fresh air

Getting out in nature is a perfect way to combat boredom.

Activities to consider:

  • Gardening together
  • Visiting a local botanical garden
  • Going bird-watching at the local park or nature reserve
  • Sitting in your garden
  • Setting up a bird feeder outside the window
  • Planting a tree
  • Watching a nature documentary
  • Raking leaves

Remember when

For people with dementia, long-term memory can often remain strong for a time. Talking with your loved one about their lives is a great way to learn more about them.

Activities to consider:

  • Recording an interview with your loved one
  • Asking them about their life, childhood and family
  • Looking through photos and making a photo album
  • Watching family videos together
  • Asking them about their favorite holiday or oldest friend
  • Creating a happy memory collage with subjects that fit your loved one’s interests
  • Watching old movies and TV shows


Ask your loved one about their favorite hobby, and then do it together.

Get cookin’

Preparing simple recipes together is a good way to engage your and, at the end, everyone gets to eat. Note: To maintain safety, let them do what they can, even if that means just watching you cook.

Activities to consider:

  • Baking cookies, a cake or pie
  • Popping popcorn
  • Making lemonade
  • Baking bread
  • Making sandwiches

Pet therapy

Interacting with pets can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and boost levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.

Activities to consider:

  • Inviting a friend or family member with a well-behaved pet to come visit
  • Visiting a local animal shelter, petting zoo or farm with small animals
  • Researching local animal therapy organizations
  • Setting up a fish tank

For the bookworm

If your loved one loves to read, you could read them their favorite book. You could also consider getting an audiobook for them to enjoy.

Take note

As a powerful way to provide comfort, music can both soothe and stimulate. It can elicit powerful emotional responses and help people reconnect with memories.

Activities to consider:

  • Listening to your loved one’s favorite singer, band or genre together
  • Creating a Spotify playlist of their favorite artist or genre
  • Showing them videos of their favorite singer or band performing live
  • Making your own musical instruments (making a drum or shaker is probably the easier project to tackle)
  • Singing a song together

Explore the senses

Even as the ability to communicate verbally diminishes, your loved one will still be able to enjoy sensory experiences where they can explore the world around them through sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Activities to consider:

  • Massaging their hands, neck and feet
  • Brushing their hair
  • Buying fresh flowers, potpourri or fragrant essential oils to smell
  • Making some of their favorite foods
  • Having them stroke an animal or different textured materials
  • Visiting an herb farm or a flower show
  • Making a rummage box that contains things your loved one  has been interested in

Go high-tech

Technology offers a safe and easy way to visit new and interesting places. You can also  travel back in time through videos and photos.

Activities to consider:

  • Visiting points of interests through live cams – many zoos, nature preserves, aquariums and museums offer livestreams on the internetTraveling the world with Google Earth – just  type in a location and explore
  • Creating a tablet loaded with family videos and photos of important events
    Regardless of which  activities you choose for people with dementia you choose, those activities  should aim to:
  • Stir memories and allow your loved one to reminisce about their life
  • Foster emotional connections with others
  • Encourage self-expression
  • Promote independence and purpose
  • Help them feel productive

Personalized Memory Care in Virginia Beach

At Atlantic Shores, our beautifully designed memory care community — Marina Bay — is open to all area seniors seeking dementia care. We offer licensed round-the-clock care for every stage of dementia, housekeeping and home maintenance, nutritious chef-prepared meals, and a host of other premium services and amenities. To learn more about our memory care programs, give us a call today or contact us here.