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50 purposeful activities for people living with dementia

Care Services Carer Support Dementia Positive Ageing Wellbeing
15 December 2020

As human beings, we engage in activities each and every day that provide us with purpose and pleasure. Things that stimulate our minds, and bring us enjoyment. These activities are different for each of us – baking, reading, knitting, climbing mountains, jumping out of aeroplanes…

But for the estimated 447,000 Australians who live with dementia, it can be difficult to perform activities they may once have loved, even though the need to do so has not been diminished. Lack of stimulation and boredom can exacerbate the frustration of a person living with dementia, so it’s important to find activities that engage them and bring pleasure to their everyday lives.

This will be different for each person, as we all have a unique set of likes and dislikes based on our history, lived experiences, emotions and personalities – it is not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario.

Firstly, some tips on planning activities:

  1. Understand the person – if you don’t already, find out their cultural background, family history, job history, interests and significant life events. This will allow you to…
  2. Tailor activities to suit them – a former farmer may enjoy gardening, for example.
  3. Avoid over-stimulation – many people with dementia find large crowds and loud noises overwhelming.
  4. Look to daily life for inspiration – not all activities require planning and lots of materials. Things we do as part of daily life can be challenging and stimulating for someone with dementia, such as brushing their teeth or setting the table.
  5. Tap into memories – “For many people with dementia, a sense of movement and rhythm is often retained. Listening to music, dancing, or contact with babies, children or animals provide positive feelings. People with dementia often have excellent memories of past events, and looking through old photos, memorabilia and books can help the person to recall earlier times.” BetterHealth Channel
  6. Simple is best – Allow plenty of time and space, focus on one thing at a time, and break down activities into manageable steps. You might not get it right the first time – either under or overestimating the person’s abilities, but you’ll soon get a feel for what will work for them.
  7. Prepare the work area – clutter, noise and distractions can wreak havoc on the perception and coordination of someone with dementia, so find a clean, safe work surface. You may also need to play around with work heights and seat preferences.
  8. If it’s not working, don’t sweat – abilities and tolerances can very day-to-day. Don’t take it personally if an activity isn’t working – try it again tomorrow or just abandon ship.
  9. Pick your timing – this comes with knowing the person. When are they at their best? Mornings, afternoons, evenings? Early birds may enjoy a morning stroll, while those who get restless late in the day may benefit from filling that time with a late afternoon walk.
  10. Consistency is important – learn from your mistakes and keep notes if required, especially if more than one person cares for the person. When you find something that works, repeat it and build on it.

Here are 50 purposeful activities that people who live with dementia may enjoy doing with the people who love and care for them. Not all activities will suit everyone – it will depend on their stage of dementia, as well as their personal likes and dislikes:

Day-to-day activities:

  1. Fold towels or napkins
  2. Pair socks
  3. Set the table
  4. Brush your teeth
  5. Make the bed
  6. Sweep the floor
  7. Prepare breakfast, lunch or dinner
  8. Wash and dry the dishes

Get outdoors:

  1. Take a walk
  2. Plant some flowers or vegetables
  3. Water plants
  4. Mow the grass
  5. Go to the park
  6. Sit on a bench and watch the world go by
  7. Throw or kick a ball
  8. Go to the beach
  9. Visit a National Park
  10. Rake leaves
  11. Have a picnic
  12. Go fishing
  13. Go swimming or take an aqua aerobics class
  14. Feed some ducks

Indoor activities:

  1. Listen to music
  2. Dance
  3. Knit
  4. Colour-in
  5. Chair yoga
  6. Look at family photos
  7. Watch a game of sport
  8. Play with play-doh
  9. Play a board or card game – checkers, chess, snakes and ladders, Connect 4, dominoes, memory cards
  10. Read a magazine or the newspaper
  11. Do a jigsaw puzzle
  12. Cook or bake something
  13. Go shopping

Sensory activities:

  1. Sort pegs by colour
  2. Sew some buttons onto a ribbon
  3. Finger paint
  4. Untie knots
  5. Match up nuts and bolts, or tighten screws
  6. Open and close padlocks
  7. Toss some sensory bean bags made of different materials filled with rice, sand and grains to each other
  8. Make a bead necklace
  9. Smell fresh flowers
  10. Use essential oils and fragrances
  11. Stroke an animal or differently textured materials
  12. Rummage in a box containing things the person is interested in

Do something personal:

  1. Give a hand massage
  2. Brush their hair
  3. Give a manicure/pedicure

IRT are the leaders in person-centred dementia care. Our innovative Journey of Care model enables us to tailor our dementia care environments, equipment and programs to meet the unique needs of residents living with dementia.



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