Activities Top Tips: Hobbies and Activities for Seniors with Dementia

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The AgingCare.com forum is filled with caregivers and experts who come together to share valuable information. We’ve compiled some of their best ideas to help seniors with dementia continue to participate in hobbies and activities.

Activities for Seniors with Dementia

“Activities depend on the senior’s level of dementia. Some people are still able to do things, like read, do puzzles, watch TV, tend to plants, etc., but some are not. I found that unless there is a person leading, directing and involving the patient, they may not have the insight or motivation to engage in an activity. There are activity boards that you can purchase that sit in the person’s lap or on a table and have various tasks on them, like buttons, zippers, and Velcro, and include things that have different textures and even make sounds. They are designed specifically for people with dementia and are aimed at keeping a person's hands busy and providing mental stimulation.” –Sunnygirl1

“The radio is something seniors are familiar with from their youth, so try and find a station that plays older music. Mum likes musical movies, too, especially the old ones with people like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. You could also gather loose photographs and ask them to put them in an album for you. It doesn’t matter about the order, since you can sort that later, and you would have something to talk about together. In fact, it was only through looking at very old photos with Mum that I learned bits and pieces about the family.” –PhoenixDaughter

“When my mother stayed with me, I was challenged to keep her active and happy without making it seem like ‘work.’ We ‘cooked’ together with SAFE utensils and complete caution. Mom cooked her whole life, so the actions were deeply ingrained in her mind. We watched cooking shows, and I would have a crock pot of similarly scented items cooking in the kitchen to match what they were making on TV. Mom would help me put casseroles together and set the table with melamine dishes (nothing breakable). She felt part of the process, ate much, much more, was happier overall, and our home never smelled so good! I would also let her ‘wash’ the dishes, and when she was done, I would pop them in the dishwasher to make sure they were clean.” –MiaMadre

“My dad had a stroke, which left him with limited mobility and mild dementia. He has always liked repairing things, so I started buying small appliances like alarm clocks for just a few dollars from thrift stores. I tell him they are not working properly and ask him to take a look. He will take each item apart and work on them for hours. A broken hand mixer kept him busy for several days. Dad seems to really enjoy this and it gives him a sense of accomplishment.” –Dadscaregiver1

“If your loved one won’t remember that they did the same job the day before, try sorting or matching projects. Examples could be cards with envelopes that have been separated and need to be matched, writing the alphabet on large index cards ‘for the library,’ etc. Another thing to consider is the length of time they can stay focused on a task, so don’t make projects last too long. Maybe purchase a few small boxes of crayons and dump them into a large box. Tell them they need to be sorted ‘for the children at school’ and have them match colors and put them in a baggie or rubber band.” –Anne1017

“My nephew recently mentioned that his dad with Parkinson’s liked snap-together building blocks. If your loved one with dementia still has small-muscle coordination, Legos might be worth a try. There are blocks of many sizes and complexities available.” –partsmom

“One of the many things dementia seems to rob people of is initiative. My mother will sit and color with me and sort beads by color when I lay out the equipment for her, but she does not ask for them when she is alone. As long as someone gets her started, she is fine.” –jeannegibbs

“Basically it is a process of trial and error. My mom’s only enjoyment was cooking, so I will give her a head of garlic, let her break up the bulb into a big plastic bowl, take all the pieces apart and sort them. That will last her a good 10 to 15 minutes, sometimes longer. However, she will ask me ten times if she is doing it right! Pets are great therapy, too—brushing them, petting them, talking to them, etc. Humor is a very good tool. My mom gets hysterical watching shows like The Golden Girls and Seinfeld. Doll therapy is good, too. Get a realistic baby doll with some outfits and accessories and let them hold, carry or change it.” –mary914

“Does your loved one see well enough to enjoy a lit aquarium tank? I know they make small ones now that aren’t too expensive. You can make it colorful and put one large fish or a bunch of little ones in it. It’s not much to maintain, but would amuse them and provide a distraction.” –Sunnygirl1

“Get a notebook and a pen, sit down with them and tell them you are going to write their biography. Let them tell it to you as you write it down. It will get them thinking, and they may remember some happy times. If it gets into unhappy times too often, tell them you already have that written down, and redirect them to more pleasant topics. Ask about their childhood, military life, if any, when their children were born, etc.” –vja1951

“Try large-piece (children’s) puzzles. Start with ones that have about 12 pieces and, if they work, then move on from there. ‘Review’ magazines with your loved one page by page. It presents an opportunity to talk about the items on each page. Try for one of the glossy ‘high-class’ magazines. My Mom would point to some of the most outrageous shoes and say she had a pair like them in her closet. You can talk about the images, scenes, fashions, etc. Trust me, it can take 3 hours to do one magazine! Also memory care centers often have a stack of infant’s clothes for folding by the women who have mentally returned to their mothering days. You can get a stack at a consignment or goodwill store pretty cheap.” –geewiz

Ashley Huntsberry-Lett

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Ashley is responsible for the planning and creation of AgingCare.com’s award-winning content. As a teenager, she assisted in caring for her step-father during his three-year battle with colon cancer. Now, through her work at AgingCare.com, she strives to inform and empower the caregivers who devote so much to helping and healing the ones they love.

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3 Comments

So many of these responses have been the best I have ever read here on this site! Thank you all!!
Great suggestions here.
My mother is 95 and has dementia and can barely walk and can't remember what happened an hour ago, but she plays scrabble almost everyday with her caregiver and I was so surprised that she could make a word and sometimes she wins the game.