When setting up activities for dementia patients, it is important to keep in mind their likes and dislikes: what held their interest in younger years, what hobbies and talents they spent time with. Find age-appropriate variations of child-level activities that speak to the individual patient. Did the patient enjoy golf or cooking? Was she an artist or singer? Try to incorporate these interests when developing activities. Also remember that the patient might enjoy environmental touches such as background music or sitting under a tree while involved in activities.
Physical activity is good for everyone and infuses the patient with energy. From useful activities such as folding towels or planting flowers to more sports-centered activities such as tossing a ball or walking at a leisurely pace, physical activity can be a welcome change of pace for both patient and caregiver.
Dementia patients who no longer understand a joke still appreciate humor, and laughing is good medicine for both the patient and caregiver. Keep a humor notebook with funny pictures. Laugh about family memories or anecdotes. Favorite old television or radio shows can be enjoyable, as well as a silly movie. Use humor yourself in the same way you always have. You may even want to step up the silliness.
Arts and Crafts
Making a photo collage can be fun, either from family photographs or from a subject of interest. Was the patient an Elvis fan? Find a picture book of Elvis and cut out photos for a collage. Gluing the photos onto a board can be a fun activity. Have the patient make something with clay. Working in clay can be both therapeutic and cathartic. Moving to music is relaxing and fun. Make a scrapbook with family photos and write the patient's memories beside them. Create bird feeders by stringing colorful cereal, then hanging it from a tree outside the window.
Kitchen activities can be fun and productive. Use magazine photographs to make a recipe scrapbook. Use one activity session to shell nuts, the next to grind them. List items needed for a recipe. Make a simple fruit salad or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Puzzles and Games
The patient might enjoy simple card games such as “Go Fish” or “Old Maid.” Easy board games can also be enjoyable. A specialized board game for dementia patients called “Reminiscing” is available (see Resources). Some patients enjoy working jigsaw puzzles, and a particularly interesting type can be constructed by securely gluing a famous magazine cover or piece of artwork over an existing jigsaw puzzle, then carefully cutting out the puzzle pieces. The patient might also like simple crossword puzzles or word search in large type.
Sorting and Organizing
Sorting and organizing objects can be a soothing and fun activity. Have the patient sort hardware such as nails or screws. Organize family photographs one time by family member, the next time by the age of the photo. Sort playing cards first by suit, then by number. Sort candies, sugarless if necessary, into muffin tins, then choose one variety to eat.
Pets are a wonderful addition to anyone's life, and are particularly therapeutic to dementia patients. Caring for a small bird or rodent on a daily basis can add more work for the caregiver, but the benefits might be well worth it. Brushing a dog or cat is a very soothing activity, and walking a dog is enjoyable for the patient as well as the pet.