Why Planning Activities for Seniors with Dementia is a Game Changer

I have loads of free time today, so I think I’ll create an activity plan for Mom; said no dementia caregiver ever.

All the caregivers I know are tired, overwhelmed, and trying to get 36 hours of tasks done in 24 hours every single day. One very important takeaway from my caregiving experience that I’d like to pass on to you is there will always be more to do than you can physically get done. You cannot do it all.

When I finally accepted this—and it took more years than I’d like to admit—I decided to focus on the tasks that gave me the biggest return on my investment. At the top of this list was keeping Mom busy and engaged. It was good for her and bought me sanity.

Incorporating daily activities for your person with dementia

First, don’t try to do this daily right out of the gate. Start slow and easy. Aim for once or twice a week to begin with. Then slowly increase the number of activities until you find what feels right. I know some caregivers who do two or more planned activities every day and others who find twice a week works best.

At one point, I had Mom on a once-a-day activity schedule that worked really well for us for a couple of years. But as her dementia progressed, I found I needed to adjust the frequency as well as the types of activities.

There’s no right or wrong with this. Do what works! Whatever schedule you choose, I bet you’ll start to see the benefits.

Starter activity ideas

First, don’t make your first activities complex crafts that require you to gather 14 different supplies and watch YouTube videos to execute. For our purpose, “activities” are anything that keeps your person busy and engaged.

Not sure where to start? Here are a couple of super simple starter activity ideas.

Fresh Air Break

I had going outdoors on my mom’s activity schedule whenever the weather was nice. She enjoyed watching the birds at our feeder and bird bath, blowing bubbles for the dogs to chase, or engaging in some light “gardening” on a table we set up.

Senior with dementia doing a table top gardening activity

Being outside was not only a change of scenery for Mom but also a nice change of pace for me. While she was occupied, I could do some outside chores myself.

Days like these felt like a small break for both of us, and I noticed how much good it did Mom to be outdoors. It seemed to “reset” her, especially on days she was particularly fixated on something negative or wasn’t being the nicest.

Helping Hand Activities

Asking Mom to “help” me with something was one of the easiest ways to get her engaged. She would clip coupons, fold laundry, and do simple meal prep things like peeling boiled eggs. Something about those eggshells was a sensory high for her; as a result, we ate a lot of egg salad.

Helping activities are some of my favorites because they are typically really easy to execute and give seniors a sense of purpose.

Activity Idea Bank

My Huge List of Dementia Activities post has a ton of activity ideas—some really easy and others that require more preparation. Skim through those and pick out things that sound easy, or use it as a springboard to come up with your own. The goal here is to add something positive to your loved one’s day without adding unnecessary stress to yours.

Creating an activity planner calendar

A planned activity calendar? You’re kidding, right?

Nope. Not kidding.

As you find activities that work well, I recommend putting them on a calendar your person with dementia can see. Having the calendar kept me on track, but the more significant win was how much Mom enjoyed it. Reading it reminded her of what we had done on previous days, and she could see what was coming up. Looking at the calendar became somewhat of an activity of its own for her.

I started with a paper calendar and then we progressed to a large dry erase sticky on the wall. It doesn’t matter what you use as long as it’s accessible to your person with dementia.

Benefits of planned activities for seniors with dementia

Setting up a routine with planned activities for my mom truly turned the tide for us. The activities often dialed down her agitation or anger, replacing it with calm, even if just for a while. This, of course, reduced my stress level as well.

Beyond the immediate peace it brought, there were deeper, lasting benefits. It gave her a sense of purpose and a reliable rhythm to her days. Completion of an activity lifted her self-esteem and gave her a feeling of achievement. These moments were priceless, not just for her but for me too.

Overall, implementing activities led to us getting along better and sharing more good times. Plus, when she was engrossed in an activity on her own, it freed up precious moments for me to attend to other tasks or simply take a breath. The positive impact of these planned activities spread throughout our days, making everything better.

I encourage you to explore and find activities that work for you and your loved one. It pays you back in a big way.

Have you found certain activities that work well for your loved one? I’d love to hear about your experiences and any tips you might have. Sharing our stories and successes can inspire and support others on this challenging journey.

Thank you for sharing!

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