Keeping your loved one with Alzheimer’s or any form of dementia busy and engaged can be a real challenge for caregivers. I’ve found that taking time to find and plan stimulating activities is well worth the effort.
With my mom, idle hands and boredom quickly evolve into anxiety and paranoia. And we all have plenty to do as caregivers without extra anxious and paranoid heaped onto our to-do list.
I’ve found that sticking to a schedule with planned activity times helps keep my mom entertained, happy, and way more agreeable. I call that an Alzheimer’s win.
Picking appropriate activities for your loved one with dementia
The activities listed below span a large range of functioning levels, but you can use these ideas as a springboard and adapt them for your loved one’s current ability level and interests.
I have a daughter with autism, and when she was in school I would meet with her teachers periodically to update her IEP (individualized education program). I feel like I’m doing the same kind of thing for my mom now. I call it her IAP (individualized activity program).
Just as everyone with autism is different in their abilities and functioning level, so it is with folks with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. We as caregivers are chasing a moving target when looking for appropriate activities for our loved ones. Their abilities and functioning levels are changing all the time. Sometimes from day to day. I’m constantly adjusting activities for my mom’s current level of functioning. I find some days she can do complex activities that would be impossible and totally frustrating for her other days.
My mom is currently in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, and I have to be careful the activities I plan for her don’t look too juvenile.
I can, however, get away with some “kid” activities if I have one of my children participate. She thinks she’s “babysitting”. This is a double win as she’s engaged and feeling useful. Though I do have to keep a close eye on things when my kids participate. Mom is having more frequent episodes of,
ahem, just not being nice, (sparing you the horrid details on that)
and I have to be ready to pull my kid away if things start going south.
I repeat activities often. So don’t feel like you need something new every day. Most of the time my mom doesn’t remember she’s already done an activity multiple times. And if she says she doesn’t feel like doing a particular activity, I put it away and pull it out again another day. I try to have one activity time planned for her each day, and I plan these several weeks at a time.
I have done many of the activities listed below with my mom. But some are either not appropriate for her current functioning level or are things I know she wouldn’t be interested in. I’ve included those on the list as I know we are all at different places in this caregiving journey and are caring for a wide range of personalities and abilities.
Dementia activity supplies
I highly recommend gathering supplies for multiple activities at the time. I use plastic containers and bags to organize activities so they are ready to go. This saves a ton of time and having everything ready means I’m more likely to follow through on making the activities happen. Otherwise, I tend to put them off because I don’t have time at that moment to pull together what I need.
Having the activities sorted in containers also allows Mom to pull something out to work on whenever she would like. It’s also really handy to have things available for times when she starts talking about something (usually something that didn’t even happen) that’s upsetting her. Pulling out a container with a craft will sometimes be just the ticket to distract her.
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Alzheimer’s and Dementia Activities List
- Build with Legos – I first heard of this idea from a member of my FB group for caregivers. Her senior, who was previously a bricklayer, enjoyed building walls with Duplos (the larger size Legos). The pieces were in bright primary colors, but her senior didn’t seem to mind. Traditional size Legos are half the size of Duplos, but might be appropriate for some seniors with more dexterity. Building with Legos is definitely a great way to stimulate the brain making this a fantastic activity for dementia patients.
- Sharpie Mug Craft – Use oil-based Sharpie paint markers to personalize a dollar store coffee mug. This EASY craft was a hit with my mom at stage 5 Alzheimer’s! It’s simple and with a few modifications seniors can complete this craft and have it come out looking fantastic! Great for individuals or groups. Check out my post HERE for detailed instructions and materials list.
- Christmas Carol Matching Game – A fun holiday activity matching Christmas Carol song titles to their lyrics. Check out my post HERE for free ready to print game cards.
- Watch home movies
- Decorate their walker
- Bake cookies, muffins, or pies
- Explore a fidget quilt or activity mat – These give restless hands something to do. My mom hasn’t used one of these yet, but I’ve talked with other caregivers who find them great for reducing anxiety and even self-harming behaviors in the later stages of dementia. You can find these ready-made online, but making one doesn’t look too tricky. I plan to try it at some point! Here’s a link to my Pinterest Board of fidget quilts and aprons.
- Flip sequins – Everyone seems to love the feeling of swiping 2-sided color changing sequin fabric back and forth. 🙋♀️ You can find flip sequins on all kinds of things these days: pillows, blankets, toys, bags, clothing, and books to name just a few.
- Complete dot to dot books – These come in large print versions.
- Go out for ice-cream – Oh, how my mom loves ice-cream field trip day!
- Sort mail
- Sculpt with clay or playdough
- Complete a word search – My mom is beginning to find regular word search books difficult, so I make easy ones for her! I use large print and have all the words run in a readable direction. Here’s one I made her with a Halloween theme.
- Make slime – My 9-year-old daughter is obsessed with making slime. I never dreamed my mom would enjoy the sticky, gooey stuff, but my daughter has her hooked on it! They make it together and create different colors and consistencies. They even name their creations! The ingredients needed for a basic slime recipe are things you probably have in your house right now: glue, borax or contact solution, and baking soda. But the fun really begins when you start adding all the extras like glitter, shaving cream, paint, clay, foam beads, and the list goes on and on. Check back here as my daughter is planning a slime-making tutorial for seniors that I’ll be posting soon.
- Go for a walk
- Work on easy crossword puzzles – I make crosswords for my mom with clues from things that happened in the 50’s or 60’s. This is the stuff she still remembers.
- Famous Duos game – We use famous pairs from my mom’s era as well as pairs my kids know so they can play together. Fred Astaire and … Ginger Rogers, Adam and … Eve, Hansel and … Gretel, Beauty and … The Beast. Even when my kids aren’t around to play this with Mom, she still enjoys going through the deck and quizzing herself. See the Famous Duos post and get a free printable set of cards here!
- Go to the library and pick out books for the grandkids
- Play ring toss – We have a sturdy wooden ring toss set that works well indoors or out. I tell mom playing this is exercise.
- Go on a picnic
- Create a picture with stamps and an ink pad
- Create paper shapes with paper punches and colorful cardstock – I knew there was a reason I bought way too many paper punches over the last decade! Even if you don’t have a massive collection of paper punches, just a few can still make for a fun activity. Use them to make cards, artwork, holiday decorations, and placements.
- Color easy adult coloring books – This sounds easy, right? Well, not so easy in my mom’s case. The adult coloring books, even the ones that say “easy”, are usually way too intricate for her. Also, she has gotten to a point where choosing which color to use for each part is a hard decision. It seems to paralyze her. I’ve found that if I offer her truly simple drawings that aren’t too juvenile, along with a sample colored picture so she doesn’t have to make the color choices, she will color for an hour or so. Here’s a link to a coloring book my mom has been successful with. I also have a couple of free coloring pages available in my library to my newsletter subscribers.
- Play with magnets – My mom enjoys THESE cube shaped magnets and will fiddle with them for 20 – 30 minutes at a time.
- Color or trace a map of their hometown – I print out maps of mom’s hometown from google maps. I choose a size that allows enough detail for familiar landmarks like churches, museums, post office, etc., to show up. She loves outlining and coloring these maps while reminiscing about her life there!
- Get a joke book and tell jokes
- Play Wii bowling
- Have beauty day – I don’t schedule this one too often because it’s time-consuming for me to execute. But when I do, it’s always a hit! We do manicures, makeup, and hairstyles. This is a fun one to do if you’re planning on going out to dinner.
- Paint with Q-tips
- Play dominos – My mom plays a solitaire version of this, and will sometimes do it for a couple of hours. I think there is something soothing about those smooth, cool tiles.
- Make sundaes
- Watch old movies – My mom is at a point where she has trouble following the plot and characters in movies, but she still enjoys musicals. We always make popcorn and turn down the lights. I find our movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime Videos. Flixable.com is a super handy site to search Netflix. It lets you search by genre and year. Try choosing “classics” or “musicals”.
- Make door decorations
- Play Connect Four
- Sing-along or karaoke – We like old-time favorites, patriotic songs, or classic hymns for this one. If you don’t have a karaoke machine, you can find these on YouTube. Make a playlist or use ours.
- Paint rocks – Check Pinterest for tons of rock painting ideas.
- Stitch with lacing cards
- Clean out a junk drawer – This activity makes Mom feel useful and is a huge help to me.
- Play tic tac toe – Here’s another one where grandkids come in handy. We like to get creative with our X’s and O’s. We use skittles, legos, buttons, and even rocks we painted in another activity.
- Sort buttons, nuts, bolts, coins, socks, or silverware
- Play cornhole – I call this more exercise.
- Blow bubbles
- Plant flowers or vegetables – If your loved one can still get around well enough to get out in the garden, definitely take advantage of that. My mom isn’t that steady anymore, so we do our planting in containers on an outdoor table. After they are planted, watering them turns into a daily activity.
- Solve pattern block puzzles – Mom has trouble with the sets with small pattern cards, like these. She gets so confused! But I found THESE that come with puzzle piece sized pattern cards, and she can place the pieces directly on top of the card. She is successful with these!
- Explore busy boards with bolts, fasteners, latches, buttons, zippers, or snaps – Currently, I think my mom would think this was too juvenile, but it will probably be something I invest in when she progresses to a later Alzheimer’s stage.
- Fold towels, pillowcases, or socks – My mom isn’t too fond of this one, but I’ve heard from lots of caregivers that it works well for them.
- Go fishing
- String beads – Base the size of the string and beads on current fine motor skills.
- Make a collage from copies of old family photos
- Clip coupons – After clipping, sort them into categories.
- Decorate for a holiday with window clings
- Wash eyeglasses
- Have a tea party for lunch – We pull out my mom’s vintage china and have tea with pinwheel sandwiches and cookies. Mom thinks they look fancy. I buy them ready made at the Kroger deli. After lunch, Mom hand washes the china.
- Decorate homemade bookmarks with Washi Tape
- Play or call bingo – Mom has a group of seniors she plays this with. If you haven’t found a senior activity day for your loved one to participate in, make that a priority.
- Solve easy jigsaw puzzles
- Pop bubble wrap or stomp it to music
- Watch oldie video clips – Mom loves Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and others. Make a YouTube playlist or use ours.
- Visit with pets – Live animals or robotic pets like THESE.
- Massage their hands
- Look at or read old magazines – I’ve found these reasonably priced on eBay.
- Visit with young children and teens
- Decorate cookies with icing and sprinkles
- Squeeze sensory balloons – Make these by filling an empty water bottle with flour, sugar, rice, or whatever you think will feel good. Partially blow up a balloon and put in on the mouth of the water bottle. Turn the bottle upside down, and the balloon fills with the bottle’s contents. Don’t use thin, cheap water balloons for this project. Ask me how I know.
- Create bubble art – Glue bubble wrap to a wooden block and stamp paint.
- Make bird feeders – Put peanut butter on pinecones, roll in birdseed, hang outside a window, and then watch the birds.
- Make a scrapbook using photos from their life
- Build towers and pyramids with solo cups
- Have “happy hour” with wine (grape juice) and cheese – This is a fun one to combine with the karaoke and singalong activity.
- Play balloon ball – We haven’t tried this yet, but it looks fun. Hit large balloons around with a fly swatter or 1/3 of a pool noodle.
- Arrange flowers – This is fun with fresh and artificial flowers. I have several bags of artificial flowers and rotate them. Mom thinks she’s making a new arrangement every time.
- Try on wigs, scarves, old costume jewelry, and hats – We have a trunk with old hats and jewelry that belonged to my grandmother. We will “dress up” and take pictures. I add a sepia tone filter to the photos for a vintage look. So much fun.
- Play complete the phrase with nursery rhymes or song lyrics
- Care for a lifelike baby doll – I know several ladies in the later stages who love their “babies” and enjoy taking care of them.
- Hit beachballs around with plastic bats
- Play the alphabet game – start with letter A and name an animal, city, or person’s name
- Bowl with lightweight bowling balls
- Play solitaire on a computer or tablet – Mom has enjoyed doing this for years, but it’s getting increasingly difficult for her. She’s forgetting how to find the game on the computer and gets confused easily with the game’s commands. I’m looking for a way to adapt this for her. Any ideas?
- Guess the smell – Put things with familiar scents (coffee, cinnamon, baby powder, cat food) in small paper bags.
- Practice chair yoga
- Peel hard-boiled eggs – Then make chicken salad.
- Have gameday – Decorate with their favorite team’s colors, make snacks, and watch the game.
- Shell peanuts
Would you help me with additional ideas for this list? Leave a comment with an activity you’ve found enjoyable for your loved one.
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