One of the most common signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, and as the disease develops, there are further changes in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Another common symptom is a person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby, or they may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
However, maintaining relationships with family and friends and interests reduces the effects of severe cognitive impairment and leads to a better quality of life. Activities can bring enjoyment and pleasure, increase social interaction and reduce isolation, and may help a person feel important and valued. Plus, too much empty time can make a person with dementia feel lonely and unproductive, raising their risk of depression, agitation and anger.
Keeping seniors engaged and active also offers benefits to the caregiver, family and friends. Shared activities can provide mutual enjoyment and companionship, which can support the relationship between the person with dementia and the caregiver, and activities can encourage closeness between a person with dementia and people around them and improve feelings of comfort and security.
But what are the best stimulating activities for people with Alzheimer’s? Although it depends on the individual, here are six suggested activities for seniors with Alzheimer’s.
1. Sing Songs or Play Music
Although changes in memory make it hard to follow activities with multiple steps or instructions, musical ability tends to be very well retained. There are many ways to enjoy music — from signing and listening to following the rhythm and moving to the music — and research shows music has therapeutic and mood-boosting benefits. Try playing your loved one’s favorite songs or pieces of music, which can also be powerful prompts for reminiscence.
2. Do Arts and Crafts
If your loved one is crafty, use the arts to encourage self-expression. From adult-friendly coloring books to creating collages using magazine images to experimenting with watercolors, creative pastimes can be enjoyable and relaxing for the person with dementia — and those supporting them. Keep in mind that arts and crafts might start to become difficult for the person with dementia, so look for ways to adapt them. For example, someone who crochets might use a simple, repetitive pattern to make scarves or lap blankets.
3. Work on Household Chores
It might not sound like fun to you, but if your loved one used to take pleasure in organizational tasks or cleaning the house, activities around the home can help them feel involved and enhance their self-esteem because it shows they can still manage useful tasks. Household chores such as rinsing and drying dishes or loading a dishwasher, folding laundry or matching socks, and organizing a messy drawer can all help the person feel a sense of accomplishment.
4. Play Games or Do Puzzles
Keep your loved one’s mind active with games and puzzles. Maybe your parent can’t keep up bridge anymore, but they can enjoy a simpler card game, such as War or Solitaire. Board games, such as checkers or Chinese checkers, are great options, as are jigsaw puzzles. Look for large-print versions of word-search puzzles and cards. Build on activities your loved one has always enjoyed, and aim for the sweet spot of not too easy and not too hard.
People with dementia can often remember the distant past more easily than recent events, so activities focusing on reminiscing can help improve mood and well-being. They’re also good ways of helping relatives and friends stay connected. There are many ways to initiate conversation and participation in reminiscence, such as flipping through scrapbooks or photo albums, watching a digital picture frame with rotating images of family members, or looking through a personal memories box. As you go through the old photos, identify people, ask open-ended questions about the pictures and write down what you learn.
Exercise programs for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have shown promise for their ability to slow cognitive as well as functional, emotional and social decline. Consider physical activities that may also be mentally or socially engaging, such as walking with a friend, taking a dance class, joining an exercise group or golfing. Chair aerobics or a seated game of bowls might be more appropriate for people with limited mobility.
No matter what activities you and your loved one embark on, remember to concentrate on the process of an activity, not the results. It does not matter if the dishes are rinsed improperly, the paint set ends up in the refrigerator or you never finish the crossword puzzle. What matters is that your loved one enjoyed the time spent on it and felt useful.