A daughter watches on as her elderly mother uses a rolling pin to roll out dough in the kitchen

Activities for People with Dementia That Develop A Sense of Purpose

It’s a word that can carry a lot of weight and is a common fear of most everyone as they age: Alzheimer’s. But it’s important to recognize that there are many different stages people with dementia go through. One of the best ways to provide your loved one with a better quality of life is by helping them maintain a sense of purpose. To achieve this, it’s important to consider activities for people with dementia based on what they can do instead of what they can’t do. 

A landmark study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago with more than 1,400 seniors over a 15-year period found those who rated highly on a purpose of life scale had a 30% lower rate of cognitive decline than those with low scores. 

This post will offer activities for seniors with dementia and other suggestions for keeping them engaged and happy. 

Activities for people with dementia.

First of all, it’s important to know what is meant by “activities.” They can be either passive, where someone watches, or active, where two or more people are engaged in the activity. And it doesn’t have to be planned. Activities can include life skills around cleaning, organizing and self-care. They can also include social and religious activities or exercise and music.

If you can, try to match your activities with your loved one’s current schedule. For example, if they currently like to clean in the morning and go for a walk in the afternoon, continue with that routine. When considering our list of suggested activities for people with dementia, draw upon what you already know about your loved one to follow their interests. If you’re unsure what they like to do, consider having a conversation with them about their likes and dislikes.

Regardless of what you choose, dementia 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

Get going

Being physically active has a lot of benefits for people with dementia. It can help regulate their sleep and prevent restlessness and sleeplessness in the evening. Even mild exertion can also help maintain a positive mood and lower the risk of developing depression.

You might want to consider:

  • Going for a walk around the neighborhood or a local park
  • Depending on their mobility, you could try going on walks together
  • Water aerobics – health and fitness centers often have workshops and classes specifically for elderly people or people with dementia

Memory lane

For people with dementia, long-term memory can often remain strong for a time. Engage your loved one in discussions or activities about their lives. It’s also a great way to learn more about them.

You might want 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

Hobbies

Ask them to talk about or show you their favorite hobby, and then do it together. 

In the kitchen

Cooking or baking simple recipes together is a good way to get your loved one doing something practical and everyone gets to eat the result. Note: Let them do what they can while maintaining safety. That may mean they watch you cook or they take the lead and you just help out as needed.

You might want to consider:

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

Pet therapy

Pets have been shown to relieve stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Pet therapy can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and boost levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.

You might want 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

Explore

Getting out is a great way to combat boredom while providing 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.

You might want to consider:

  • Going shopping together
  • Visiting some of your loved one’s favorite places in town
  • Taking a short day trip to a local place of interest
  • Spending an afternoon in the park

Get outside

If your loved one has a green thumb or loves wildlife, getting out in nature is a perfect way to get some fresh air and see new things. 

You might want 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

Read together

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

Play their favorites

Watch YouTube videos with your loved one of their favorite singers, public figures or sports teams. 

Music therapy

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

You might want 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

Be creative

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

You might want to consider:

  • Painting
  • Knitting
  • Coloring
  • Cutting out pictures
  • Decorating placemats

Think simple

Not only are simple activities familiar to your loved one and relatively easy to follow, but they can help your loved one to feel productive.

You might want to consider:

  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Crosswords
  • Dominoes
  • Old board games, such as Chutes and Ladders, and Candyland
  • Have an afternoon picnic or tea party
  • Untying knots
  • Sorting a deck of cards by suit

Household help

Thinking up new activities can be exhausting. But everyday tasks around the house can provide stimulation. And both people benefit: You get jobs done, and helping with tasks can make your loved one feel productive and give them a sense of purpose.

You might want to consider:

  • Folding laundry
  • Pairing socks
  • Sweeping or vacuuming
  • Wiping off the table
  • Organizing household or office items
  • Dusting
  • Watering houseplants
  • Arranging flowers in a vase

Things to remember.

If your loved one isn’t interested in a particular activity or seems resistant, just take a break and try again later. You could also try a different activity or ask your loved one how you could make this one more enjoyable for them. You should also focus on the process of the activity, not the results. What matters most is that your loved one enjoys the time and feels useful.

Exploring your dementia care choices. 

If you’d like to learn more about your loved one’s memory care options or hear about our personalized care philosophy, call us at 734-418-9027. You can also start searching for an Eagle Senior Living community near you by using our community locator tool.