Anyone who is associated with people who have a dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease will often feel more than a little at a loss at how to help them occupy their time in a meaningful way. We all know that keeping our minds and bodies active is important at any age – but particularly so in people with Alzheimer’s as studies are increasingly showing that there is a direct link in brain stimulation having a beneficial effect in slowing down the process of the disease.
Many elderly people in the early to mid stages of Alzheimer’s are still living at home and are still able to function well, often helped by relatives and possibly some additional outside help. There are a wide range of clubs and organisations such as Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society that offer specific activities to promote social interaction and stimulation.
For those that are caring for a loved one at home or for Activity Coordinators working in residential homes that are looking for suggestions, here is our pick of 10 activities that can make a real difference:
Top Ten Activities For Older People With Alzheimer's
1) Play some favourite songs from the past to jog memories, perhaps sing along and even dance (providing the person is able). Discuss where the song was first heard and what other music was enjoyed at the time. Did he/she go to see live bands or attend any dances? Why not do some stretching exercises in time to the music to keep muscles warm and supple.
2) Enjoy some art or craft work, such as colouring books, painting, knitting or any needlework. Try and use past skills where possible – equipment can be modified according to the person’s abilities, such as bamboo lightweight knitting needles, larger-holed tapestry canvas with a blunt-end needle, Aquapaints that only need water and a brush or adult painting books with bold, simple outlines to colour.
3) Organise household items. Maybe sort spare buttons into various colours and sizes, or try doing the same with screws, nuts and bolts etc, cutlery drawer etc. Fold tea towels, sheets and pillowcases etc. While doing these activities, talk about how that person did household chores in the past, products used and how effective they were. For those in the later stages of a dementia, a baby doll can be used to change nappies, feed etc. to evoke past childcare and stimulate discussion.
4) Do some simple cleaning. Wipe tables, sweep the floor, polish the furniture and mirrors. If possible and safe to do so, include some outdoor chores such as sweeping up leaves or polishing a car.
5) Enjoy some gardening projects such as planting up a tub or hanging baskets together, cut or buy some flowers and arrange them in a vase. Sow some large seeds such as peas, beans or nasturtiums in pots. If possible, visit a florist or garden centre and talk about the person’s favourite plants or take a walk in a local park.
6) Encourage any reading, many older people may have deteriorating sight but it is possible to obtain large print books from your local library, or use an electronic device that enables the user to enlarge the print. There are many picture books that cover a wide range of subjects especially designed to stimulate reminiscence and conversation.
7) Newspapers and magazines can encourage discussion. Look through them together and select a few items to talk about – especially those with dramatic pictures. Why not try a vintage newspaper that evokes memories of events in the past.
8) Do some baking together. Rolling out and cutting out biscuit shapes is a lovely tactile activity with quick results for anyone who has a short attention span. Making sandwiches or buttering toast will also utilise fine motor skills in the same way.
9) Keep brains stimulated by doing puzzles and jigsaws. Simple large-print word search and crossword books are readily available, and there is a wide range of adult-appropriate jigsaw puzzles with large pieces that are easy to grip for older hands. Why not have a game of bingo – especially when there is a group together.
10) Watch a favourite film together, why not choose a sing-along DVD of a classic musical? Words appear at the bottom for all to copy. Or maybe a comedy to laugh along to.
If the activity is met with resistance, try again at another time. Maybe try another time of day or approach it differently. If possible, ask the person what could be altered to make it more fun. It is important to remember that what counts is the participation that you are trying to achieve, and that the person was happily occupied and felt useful.