Engagement Activities for your Loved One Living with Dementia
As we grow older, maintaining social connection and engagement in activities that keep our minds active is essential to our mental and physical wellbeing. Loneliness and isolation have been proven to contribute towards the development of dementia and can increase the risk of premature death as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or obesity. As such, it is increasingly important that we continue to be socially connected to ensure the highest quality of life, and this is even more important for people living with dementia as it can help to slow the progression of the condition and can help maintain cognitive ability which supports independent living.
The following activities can be used by family members, friends, or CAREGivers who are supporting someone living with dementia. The primary goal of these activities is to help the person living with dementia to feel engaged with and able to participate in meaningful activities that provide mental stimulation and social connection with their loved ones.
By trying different activities, you’ll hopefully discover what activities the person living with dementia really enjoys and will provide a basis for activities that you can undertake together in the future. This can also help to ensure that the holistic needs of the person living with dementia are met including social, mental and psychological wellbeing, cultural and spiritual needs, reflecting their hobbies and interests, and helping them to maintain their independence and identity. There is an activity included within this list to suit every individual!
- Create a client journal and include photos or information about where they grew up, what their childhood was like, their family (mother, father, siblings, partner, children, grandchild etc), their pets, their career or working life, their hobbies, what social issues are important to them, their daily routine etc. This can be a great way to reminisce about different parts of their life, encourage them to share stories about each stage of their life
- Take a drive around their local area and reminisce about where they used to live and work, have a look at significant streets or buildings that have sentimental value. Alternatively, take a drive to the beach and reminisce about previous trips or holidays
- Cook food together that reminds them of the meals they used to eat when they were younger or from their heritage such as Italian or Greek food.
- Visit local museums where the topics may be relevant to something in their lives eg. Air Force Museum or Mining Museum if they used to work in these industries etc
- Find an old newspaper and use this to reminisce about major historical or sporting events. The Trove is an online search engine of Australian newspapers that have been developed by the National Library of Australia.
- Use Spotify or Youtube to listen to favourite musicians or bands
- Watch videos on the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) website with footage covering a range of topics depicting life in Australia over the decades including sporting events, history, actors, singers and adverts
- Use cuddly toys to provide companionship and comfort, to help with communication, to reduce anxiety and enable reminiscence about a beloved furry friend. Dolls can also be used in a similar way.
- Stimulate the Five Senses:
- Smell (bake bread, smell flowers, spray a favourite perfume)
- Touch (feel sand between the toes, play with textured fabrics)
- Sound (listen to favourite musicians, listen to ocean waves, listen to the birds)
- Sight (watch old movies, look through photos or magazines)
- Taste (try different types of foods eg. Sweet and sour flavours)
For the Gardening Guru:
- Visit a local garden centre or plant nursery
- Plant something together eg. A herb garden or a favourite type of plant
- Create an album of garden or plant pictures to show the seasonal changes in the environment
- Create a flower arrangement
- Re-pot indoor plants and spend time together watering the plants
- Create a dish garden that can be kept inside – use a sturdy container and add small stones, potting soil and small plants
- Visit a local park or botanical garden and look at the different flowers, plants and trees
- Create a sensory garden with plants that look visually appealing, have different textures (often soft or fleshy), have a stronger fragrance or have a taste (herbs can work well for this) and plants or design features that incorporate sound such as bamboo or different path surfaces such as pebbles, sand and crushed seashells.
For the Sport’s Fan:
- Watch video archive footage of large Australian supporting events – the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) has a wide collection of sports footage from past events
- Use Google to find pictures of a favourite sports team from a previous era eg. 1970s etc.
- Attend a seated exercise class or find a video on Youtube of seated exercises and do these together
- Find a Dementia or Parkinson’s specific dance or exercise class
- Take a drive around an area they use to walk around
- Try to play a low-intensity version of a sport that was previously played, potentially using balloons instead of balls for example or bowl with lightweight bowling bowls
For the Music Lover:
- Play a musical instrument together eg. If they used to play the piano, ask them to play their favourite tune
- Use Spotify or Youtube to play their favourite songs, you could even consider printing the chorus and singing it together
- Join a Parkinsons or Dementia choir
- Listen to a radio station that plays music from the past
- Create a music shaker using an empty plastic bottle with a tight-fitting lid and add dry pasta or beans. Use this when playing their favourite song and shake along to the beat
For the Crafter/Craftsperson:
- Work on simple craft projects together eg. Knitting, crochet, cross stitch kits, paint by numbers
- Bake ANZAC biscuits together or their favourite sweet treat
- Decorate biscuits or cupcakes
- Complete jigsaws or puzzles designed for older people or those living with dementia or use simplified dot-to-dot puzzles or play dominoes
- Paint ceramics or rocks to create ladybirds or flowers
- Cook their favourite meal together, or share food from their culture – this may be especially rewarding if the person was born outside of Australia or has heritage from somewhere else
- Colour in simplified drawings or pictures
- Enlarge and print a photo of a favourite location or scene and cut it into square pieces to form a jigsaw
- Use cookie cutters to make shapes in play dough
For the DIY enthusiast or former trades person:
- Sort hardware parts (such as nuts, washers and bolts) or coins into different sizes. You could also try this with socks or buttons
- Use duplo blocks or lego to build different structures
- Create a busy board with bolts, zips, door latches, buckles, clips, wheels, light switches, cogs, gate hooks, lace up sections, abacus-style counters