Finding meaningful dementia activities can be a challenge. Especially if it is a new venture for you when caring for family or residents. If you’re scraping for more information on this topic then give this article a read and see what fits your need. The ideas on this page are meant for those with early or middle-stage dementia.
Using these Activities
The way you use these activities will depend on if you’re working with just one family member, a small group of two or three, or a larger group in memory care (and of course not all may participate).
Many times dementia activities are simply demonstrated by the caregiver or director, with the resident(s) watching, choosing items, or talking. Sometimes you may make the activity samples up ahead of time, and just leave out a few details so participants can choose ways to finish them off. So these activities are basic guidelines explained here – you can decide how you will present them.
Things May Vary Daily
If you’ve been working with dementia residents for a while, you’ll likely know the following explanatory material already. As you may know, if you are working with a group, various residents will be at various ability levels – and what they can or want to do and for how long, can vary from day to day.
Activities should not only be meaningful but ideally something they used to be interested in. The more reminiscing that can happen, the more opportunity to keep the memory active for as long as possible.
It is also important to be in the resident’s moment as much as possible – he or she may suddenly start talking about something unrelated, but meaningful to them at the time.
It does take continual observing, modifying, adjusting… and relaxing to have fun! Dementia activities should be done at a slower more patient pace, for shorter time allotments, along with lots of praise and encouragement.
The activities we provide here may need to be modified to suit your particular memory care needs. (And remember, children who visit grandparents with memory loss, may enjoy participating in some of these dementia activities as well).
The Usual Activity
Most of us are familiar with the usual dementia activities, such as baking cookies or making popcorn, simple gardening like planting and weeding, folding laundry, sorting items, stringing things, looking at photographs, taking walks, baby visits, pet visits, etc. So we won’t go into those here, but will instead discuss many others.
Our Dementia Activities
Dementia activities involving food are really popular. Besides those that are baked making memorable aromas, it seems chocolate is another favorite. Here are a few fun food projects – they’re also a hit to do with children.
No-bake chocolate covered chow mein noodle cookies
Chocolate is a favorite treat and often associated with fun memories. Warm-up a container of dipping chocolate in the microwave according to instructions. Make sure you heat it in 15-second intervals, stirring in between, to eliminate burning.
Transfer the melted chocolate to a larger mixing bowl (it has more room). Stir in about 2 cups of chow mein noodles, mixing gently but well. You can also add in a little coconut if you like that.
Put spoonfuls of the mixture onto a platter that’s been covered with waxed paper. Refrigerate for at least half an hour, until firm. Take them out of the fridge about 15 minutes before eating, or they may be hard to bite.
This is a longer-term project, because of the baking time. So that is something to factor into the presentation of your activity. We all love the smell of home-baked bread!. So make it the easy way with a bread machine. This is one kitchen gadget we recommend having if it is in your budget.
Otherwise, if you work at a care center, see if you can get a donation or do a little fundraising. Automatic bread makers process everything for you: mixing, kneading, baking, so you can come back later – and it’s done! They are also pre-programmable and usually have automatic shut-off safety features.
Some dementia activities are especially fun to do with kids, family, or friends. For this one, you will need a pancake griddle and metal cookie cutters to pour the batter into, such as stars, hearts, Christmas trees, flowers, bells, Mickey Mouse, etc. Keep the cookie cutter around the batter until the shape sets. When done, people can choose decorations: raisins, apple slices, coconut, candies, nuts, even a little whipped cream. Great for a brunch or special birthday breakfast too.
Making chocolate spoons is another of the favorite dementia activities and ideal to do with kids. You can also use them for parties or gifts to give away. Not to mention, what a great spoon for stirring in a cup of coffee or cocoa! we prefer to use a microwavable tub of chocolate because it is the easiest and fastest method.
Microwave the chocolate according to the instructions. Dip a spoon into the melted chocolate and twirl it around so both sides get coated. Put it on the wax paper to harden, then dip it again. While the chocolate is still soft, dip them in sprinkles or candies; or sprinkle them by hand on to the top. Participants could choose which sprinkles or other candies to use to decorate.
Chocolate covered strawberries
The very easiest way to make chocolate covered strawberries is, again, by using the ready-made microwavable dipping chocolate. And they’re healthy! They can be used for many holiday occasions too, and fun to do in groups or one-on-one. Chocolate dipped pretzels – This is a similar process as with making chocolate-covered strawberries, in which you use also the microwaveable chocolate.
Homemade pretzels can be either slightly salty or sweet. And you can also make various, fun shapes for different occasions, such as hearts, circles, spirals, etc. The easiest way is to use refrigerated pizza dough. Then sprinkle the tops with a little sweetener or salt. Some people like raisins pressed in. Just follow the directions on the dough package and cut or roll the dough into cylinders, then shape them. And they’re also really good to use for the dipping chocolate project too!
Homemade ice cream, the easy way
Making homemade ice cream is very easy these days, because there are excellent electric automatic ice cream makers out there, with no ice or salt needed – and very little effort. Again, this project involves a longer time element. With the right recipes, ice cream can be a healthy dessert for almost anyone. And ice cream is sure to bring back good memories.
These elegant strawberry bouquets are satisfying to make, and to give (as well as eat, of course). We have a super simple way to frost the tops of strawberries and include candy in the bouquet too.
Strawberry fruit tower
Strawberries are very versatile for various dementia activities using fruit, and high in nutrition as well.
Participants can choose to decorate this easy kabob tower with various kinds of fruit and gumdrop colors. And for lots of holidays and parties – just change out the other fruits, colors, and candies.
General Dementia Activities
These various general dementia activities can easily be modified to suit your group or loved one, depending on ability level.
Even for those who weren’t into gardening, windowsill gardens are fun dementia activities to do as a group or individually. A sunny windowsill is best. Besides watching a window garden grow, weeding and picking are other activities that can be done.
Gardens that grow something you can eat are very popular. Edible window gardens usually consist of herbs such as dill, basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, thyme, oregano, and chives. Use a potting mix rather than soil; it can carry disease. Be sure to get fertilizer made for edible plants, using it about once a month.
You could utilize a variety of pots and containers for your windowsill gardens, but they should be at least 6 inches deep. You don’t need to water herbs very often; just keep the soil barely moist so roots do not get soggy. Cut and use your edibles often. They’ll get fuller as they are clipped.
Other interesting plants to grow and eat in a windowsill garden are strawberries, tomatoes, and sunflowers. See your garden center for specific instructions if you have questions. Or simply get a kit – there are many available. And of course when you “harvest” from your window garden, you can use the pickings in any cooking or snack projects.
Windowsill flower gardens also make lovely dementia activities and add a boost of color and fragrance.
Grow an amaryllis flower
Amaryllis flowers are excellent for dementia activities – they are large, bright, and amazing to watch grow. An amaryllis bulb kit is very inexpensive, usually $12 or less. Although these kits are typically found in large discount stores like Target during the winter holidays, You can find them in Walgreen’s during the summer as well.
Amaryllis plants make a fabulous gardening type activity – they grow really fast. You can literally see and measure their progress with a ruler daily – about an inch per day once they get going. Are you familiar with the amaryllis? They are tall and stately flowers with spectacular large blooms, several to a stalk. Just follow the directions on the box.
This can also be coupled with an outing to a garden in which flowers can be picked. Get a variety of colors and sizes of flowers, along with foliage and ferns. Pussy willows, cattails, and baby’s breath are also nice additions. Then arrange them in an attractive, non-breakable vase.
Make a creative planter
If you’re growing little mini gardens or just want to have some live plants around, consider putting them in a really creative planter…
Like an old-fashioned pail, a bright rain boot, an upside-down hat, or an old fancy purse. If you line up several interesting planters, with their plants, they make a lively display. And residents can weed, prune and water them too.
This is a good way to incorporate any flowers that you may be growing into other dementia activities. Drying flowers is done over a period of time, however, so keep that in mind with your participants, their memories, and attention spans.
You can either pick fresh flowers from a field trip, a community garden, or your windowsill garden. First, remove wilted petals and leaves. Flowers and leaves should lay flat and not overlap, if possible. Get a heavy book and line some pages with 2 or 3 sheets of paper for protection. Paper towels will not work for this, because they’ll disintegrate. Lay the flowers carefully out on the paper, and cover them with another couple of sheets of paper.
Close up the book and stack another couple of books on top. Or if you want to dry them faster, you can also put the book in your microwave for about 30 seconds. Repeat this process a few times, checking to see if the flowers are almost dried. Then let the book sit for at least another two weeks before opening. When the flowers are dried, they can be used in collages, in small picture frames, and decoupage, depending on what your group or loved one is able to do.
Gourd craft characters
The activities director of one of our memory care facilities used our project for one of her dementia activities, by turning funny lumpy gourds into characters with her residents (with help, of course) and they turned out really cute.
Playing with watercolors
Art projects for dementia activities can be either simple or a little more challenging. Here’s an easy way to watercolor, even if participants have not done (or do not remember having done) much with art.
The paper can also first be taped down on all sides with masking tape or artist’s water tape, to the table to keep it from curling. First, just thoroughly wet a piece of sturdy watercolor paper with a sponge, and then dab bright colors with a brush into the water, watching them spread and make patterns.
Pleasing color combinations are the cool colors of blue, green, and purple, perhaps yellow too; or the warm colors of red, pink, orange, yellow. But it doesn’t really matter. This is a very loose type of painting technique that involves no “skill.” When the painting is almost dry, put a clean piece of paper or wax paper over it, and then stack a heavy book on top, to flatten the paper while it dries.
When completely dried, the paper can then be cut into tall, narrow strips to make into attractive bookmarks to give as a gift. Then laminated or encase them in clear contact paper. You could also laminate full-sized paintings, to make into placemats.
Beaded bookworm bookmark craft
We thought this cute bookmark idea submitted by a reader would work well for dementia activities. You make the bookworm by stringing very large beads, so it’s easy to do. Participants could choose some of the beads to use. Then give them away as gifts if you’d like. Kids will love them too.
Modeling with clay
The feel of clay is wonderful in the hands, and some dementia patients may have had an artistic talent that clay will help them remember and maintain. Others will just like to play around with it. Try modeling simple animals, cartoony-like simple characters, a little vase in which to stick a small artificial flower, etc.
Meaningful dementia activities bring back old memories. And can be a great reason to go outdoors, for both men and women. You can get basic kites at a discount store or even sometimes at a dollar store. Along with flying kites, making and decorating a simple one from a kit also makes a fun activity.
Kids love to help with this one too! When you’re ready to fly, be sure to limit the length of the kite string so it’s manageable. Go outside to an area where there are not too many trees, and take turns flying the kites. They can even be attached to wheelchairs.
If this is an actual outing, bring along lemonade and cookies, or even a picnic lunch. Many of the participants may have fun stories to tell about flying kites when they were young. So kites and conversation are good for the memory too.
Gentle hand massage
A hand massage using gentle reflexology stimulates the whole system. Use a little lotion with a favorite fragrance (men and women alike). With our hand reflexology chart, it is really easy to do. This chart shows which pressure points go with which parts of the body. Pressure, of course, should be very light.
Dementia activities for a “spa” time are calming and enjoyable. Begin with relaxing music and maybe string up some small twinkling lights. Or have a few flameless battery candles set around for ambiance. Aromatherapy is also wonderful, such as lavender (which helps calm and relax) or rose, lemon, and vanilla.
Give an arm and hand massage with scented lotion. A scalp massage is excellent as well. Also popular is a foot soak in warm, scented water, followed by a gentle foot massage. Perhaps a mini pedicure, complete with toenail polish for the ladies? The activities you include in your spa time will depend on the attention span of your participants.
This is a wonderful way to give some pampering or give help with a fun and familiar activity. A manicure complete with bright nail polish is a special treat. Some patients may be able to apply a stroke or two of nail polish themselves.
Music can be incorporated into many dementia activities. It’s not only soothing, but it also helps bring back memories by association. Some participants will just want to listen, others do a little foot-tapping, humming, or even singing along. Some may like to get up and dance.
Choose music that is their favorites, such as from the ’30 s, ’40 s, or ’50 s. And don’t forget Lawrence Welk, Perry Como, and all those crooners. Church hymns can be used as well. It is also popular to have a live musician come in with a guitar or to play the piano if available. Some residents may prefer to use individual earphones while listening to music.
Games will naturally need to be modified according to abilities. Some of these dementia activities will be suitable only for early-stage dementia. Besides fun, games have other benefits. Several will provide a little motion and coordination exercise. Others will challenge the mind and memory. Here are a few popular ones.
Name That Tune
Musical games are always a great favorite and this game is good for both memory and mood. Music is one of the dementia activities that can be very calming. If you’re going to play music yourself (i.e. on a piano) it’s easy to get music online.
Using a music CD will work fine with this game too, but it’s even more fun to have live music. Begin by playing 3 to 5 notes of the song, then pause and let participants call out the tune if they can. Then add 3 more notes and pause, adding 3 notes each time until someone guesses. Or instead, play a few notes and let them sing what comes next.
Fill in the hymn or bible verse
Get phrases from some favorite old hymns and leave out the words. Participants can either call out the answer to fill in the phrase or write it down. Other fill-in games can include psalms and other scriptures, and famous sayings or idioms.
Name those states and cities
Stretch those memories and combine a mental work out with fun travel stories – two dementia activities in one. You can use either a puzzle map on a table, or get a large wall map (laminated if possible) and hang it up. See how many states and/or cities can be named. And maybe someone remembers a story about having been there.
Spelling bee and math bee
This can be made into a fun game rather than a “test,” and the emphasis is on success and encouragement so participants do not feel put on the spot. Some days they will remember, and some days they won’t. Always start out easy and basic to ensure the best success at the start.
What I Loved To Do As A Child
Games can also involve fun reminiscing into childhood, and as you know, anything with remembering makes good dementia activities. For this one, each person can talk about their favorite activity or hobby when they were a child. Some questions to ask maybe… Did they continue it as they grew? Why did they like it? Would they still like to do that activity today? Include whatever questions would be appropriate for your group.
Guess what’s in the sock
Guessing games are fun for dementia activities. Buy some large heavy socks, not low-rise, but the type that is worn outdoors in the winter that is thick and comes at least to the calf. Put several items in the socks. If you are using this for a holiday game, items should be related to your holiday or occasion in some way. You might include a small ornament, scotch tape, a pine cone, a Hershey’s Kiss, etc. Have each person feel inside the sock and name what is in it.
There are many dementia activities you can do with fall leaves. Start out by going out on a nice day around the yard, garden, grounds, or a park. Bring a book or chart on trees and leaves for the leader to reference. The leader or guide can point out the various trees and tell something about them.
For instance, maple trees can be used for maple syrup and also make very bright colors in fall; oak trees grow acorns; pines are used for Christmas trees and wreaths, etc. Participants can gather some brightly colored leaves of different kinds, so bring a bag or two. When you get back, you can then play a memory game. Have the leader hold up various leaf shapes and see if participants can remember what trees they were from. And perhaps something about those trees.
Also, try preserving leaves the old-fashioned way can create more dementia activities. Participants will need help with this because it involves ironing, and some may mostly just watch, depending on your group and if in a facility. Spread down newspapers. Then place leaves between 2 sheets of wax paper.
Cover with newspapers, and iron (with assistance of course) until the leaves are coated with wax. The newspapers absorb the extra wax. Let the leaves cool off, then remove them from the newspapers.
Preserved leaves can then be used for decoupage projects, centerpieces, making garlands, or pressing between two sheets of clear contact paper to make placemats. Whatever crafts your group can participate in.
Cup and ball game
You can buy the old-fashioned wooden cup with a ball attached to a cord. One version is to see who can get the ball into the cup the most times in a given time frame. This is a great game for those with limited mobility and for those in wheelchairs.
Have a fun game of “toss the hat”. You can use this game for many occasions – just switch out the type of hat. For instance, fill a Santa’s hat (or Uncle Sam’s hat for the 4th of July) with some candy or other small items. Then try to toss the hat around without the items falling out. This tossing game can also be done with marshmallows, and you can use any kind of container beside a hat.
This is a great activity for any group, and is also fun for those with dementia. Simply sit in a circle and hit, tap, or kick the balloon from one person to the next. This is also a little stretching exercise, with lots of laughs.
Roll the ball
For this game, you will need a long table, or a couple of tables pushed together. Then have participants sit around the table with a brightly colored ball. Then one person to roll the ball to another person, and then to another, keeping the ball rolling. This is very relaxing, and some residents will play it for quite a long time.
Lawn or patio bowling
This game is best done on a flat surface or really short grass so it’s a great outdoor game. Simply use a plastic bowling set that is set up. You can score in the traditional manner if you choose to do the scoring. Because the pins and balls are so lightweight, it is easy to manage even by wheelchair participants.
For those who are able to go on outings, we do have a special page about field trip activities for the elderly. Some of them may be suitable for you. Our family member with Lewy Body Dementia is still able to go on many of them.
Picking, sorting, and washing fruits make good dementia activities. This is a mildly active excursion, and you can make it as short as you’d like. Participants may remember berry picking days from their past. There may be a berry picking farm nearby for just such a trip, as there is near me. And you have a delicious end result!
Take the berries back with you and have a get-together, eating them, or making a dessert. If you pick strawberries, we have a very simple way to make chocolate-covered strawberries, (see link above in the Food Activities section) which can also be done outdoors.
Visit an apple orchard
Many communities have commercial orchards where you can pick your own apples and even go on a hayride or cart ride to the picking areas. Plus they often have a little cafe or shop to buy and eat delicious homemade apple treats. But then again, you may want to make your own treats! Apple crafts are always popular too and can often be done (or watched) outside.
Since dementia activities involving outings should be kept more quiet and simple, a calming boat ride is wonderful. The water makes a great backdrop. Do you, or does anyone in your church or organization have a pontoon boat? If they are willing to assist for an afternoon, this is an excellent way of boating. Pontoons can also be rented. With a proper plank, even those in wheelchairs can access this type of boat. It should ideally have a covering.
But there are also mini yachts, ferries, and a variety of motorboats too, large enough for easy and safe access, and most can be rented. Be sure everyone has appropriate clothing, plus sunglasses and sunscreen. Be sure beverages or water bottles are available, and possibly snacks.
So many seniors enjoy fishing and perhaps were even skilled at it. And they may remember fishing stories to share too. Whether on a pier, pontoon boat, fishing boat, or from shore, this is a relaxing way to get outdoors. Bring along some food and drink. And make sure there is someone who can handle the gear, hooks, and fish to give a helping hand.
Botanical garden or conservatory
Anything with plants and gardening are always included in our dementia activities because they were often favorites from the past. Strolling through a garden is also great exercise. If your town does not have its own public garden, consider a trip to a nearby place that does. Some destinations also have a restaurant, even a zoo.
And you might like to take a pair of binoculars with you for added interest!
Check these for more possible dementia activities:
Senior Activity Ideas — A comprehensive variety of General suggestions that may give you further ideas for dementia activities.
Outdoor Elderly Activities — Many outdoor ideas for different seasons. Some can be brought indoors too. So if you’re looking for dementia activities for the outdoors, check these.
Observing a loved one losing his/her memory with each passing day is painful. However, you can offer several activities on your part such as the ones mentioned above to help them regain confidence.
You may also want to check out our Guide to Selecting Caregiver Alarms and Pagers, which are great for keeping your dementia patients safe at all times.