Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease that affects 6.5 million adults in the United States. This chronic condition gets worse over time, and it causes memory loss, confusion, and difficulties with communication.
While it may be more difficult for seniors with dementia to participate in activities they once enjoyed, staying engaged and promoting cognitive function through activities is critical for their health and well-being — both physically and emotionally.
There are many activities that can promote cognitive function in seniors with dementia, and the following are some of the larger categories of memory care activities:
Music therapy is a form of therapy that uses music to improve the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of patients. While music therapy is used for many patients with different concerns, It can help people with dementia improve their mood, communication skills, sleep patterns, and motor skills.
Play your senior loved one’s favorite songs and music from throughout their life, or help them make music with instruments or even pencils on pots and pans. Music can help trigger memories, but it can also engage seniors with dementia to hum, sing, or dance. Even in cases with seniors in the late stages of dementia who are unresponsive, they will respond to and interact with music.
Music has many other benefits, too, like reducing pain, promoting exercise, and bringing seniors together. Learn more about music therapy in assisted living and senior care.
One critical way to engage seniors with dementia is to create sensory stimulation. As we mentioned above, using music can prompt seniors with dementia to interact with the world around them. But you can use more than music to engage a senior’s senses.
Sensory stimulation involves using objects to stimulate one or more senses and help seniors connect and interact with the world. Having something to do that engages the senses and allows the senior to feel successful is excellent for self esteem and promoting cognitive function. Some activities to try include:
- Simple housework, like folding towels
- Untying simple knots from a thick rope
- Sorting fabric scraps by color, weight, pattern, or texture
Using objects familiar to a person, such as childhood toys or items to simulate activities from their life or career, can help seniors with dementia connect to those memories. Even if they are not able to express that they remember, a familiar item or activity can be comforting and help seniors feel safe.
Choose objects that have some personal meaning for your loved one. It doesn’t have to be fancy or the same object they had during that time! For example, a baby doll may be a good object for a senior who raised children. They can rock the doll to sleep and even pretend to change diapers to connect to that time in their life. A simple coloring book or paper and crayons may be good for an artist. Get creative and connect with your loved one’s hobbies and favorite activities!
As always, safety is a priority. The needs and habits of each senior should be assessed to ensure they aren’t given objects they may put in their mouths or accidentally harm themselves with.
Create a Memory Corner
A memory corner is a small space that can be used for your loved one to store items that they want to keep close-at-hand. This area can include pictures of loved ones, other special items, and everyday things like keys, glasses, or a cell phone.
The idea behind a memory corner is that having these things nearby will help with feelings of security and comfort when your loved one feels anxious or confused. This is also a single place to keep essential items. Your loved one may be less likely to misplace things like reading glasses if they’re encouraged to keep them in the same place.
Set up a memory corner by creating a little nook somewhere in their room where all of these items can be kept together, so they're easy for everyone involved (including caregivers) to see when needed! It could be anything from an old shoebox sitting on top of a bookshelf or a bowl on a nightstand or end table.
It's well established that physical activity is beneficial for cognitive function. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly may be able to delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
Exercise can be done in a group setting or individually — it doesn't matter how you do it as long as you get moving! Here are some examples of exercises that can be done in a group setting:
- Yoga or Tai Chi
- Video games, like Wii Sports
Exercise can be a great way for seniors to engage with other seniors or the rest of the family. Spend more time with your senior loved one by taking walks with them. There's no need to go far or fast, but it's important to get outside with your loved one as often as possible. The fresh air helps them feel better physically and mentally, making them more likely to participate in other activities. This is good exercise for everyone and a way to spend quality time with someone you care about!
Puzzles & Games
Puzzles and games are great ways to stimulate the brain. They can be used to improve memory, language, and problem-solving skills. Puzzles and games are often recommended to keep the brain sharp and delay the progression of memory diseases, but they can also help people with dementia stay active and engaged in their environment.
Seniors with dementia may struggle to learn a new game, but large print playing cards are an option to play a variety of simple games they already know, like Old Maid, Go Fish, Crazy 8s, or the Midwest classic, Euchre. Dice games like Yahtzee are also a good option!
Simple puzzles are also great for engaging a person’s problem-solving skills. You could even have a puzzle made from a family photo for your loved one to put together.
If you're looking for ways to keep your loved one with dementia engaged and active, these memory care activities are a great place to start. Helping a loved one stay connected and engaged with their surroundings through these activities will do more than promote cognitive function. Activities like these can raise self esteem, increase their sense of security, and reduce anxiety and feelings of aggression.