senior and caregiver making cookies in the kitchen as part of a sensory activity that helps dementia

Sensory Activities For People with Dementia

Even though dementia can make it more difficult for loved ones to express themselves or complete tasks like they were once able, it doesnt mean that they shouldnt stay busy and occupied with fun activities! The best activities for people with dementia are ones that are simple and failure-free. Completing an activity can often lead to a sense of pride, comfort, and reassurance, so any activity should be geared towards success. Here are some fun and unique sensory activities that you can do with your loved ones to help comfort them while simultaneously stimulating their brains.

1. Organize a Photo Album

Memory loss is one of the most identifiable signs of dementia and it can be difficult seeing your loved one forget important memories as they grow older. That said, you can try to piece together paramount events and remind them of their past by helping them put together a photo album. Not only can this give them the ability to organize photos as they see fit, this is a great way to connect with your loved one and learn a little bit about their past. Who knows, you might even learn something that you didnt know before! The finished album can also be a great tool for them to look back at whenever they please. This can remind them of the important people in their life and give them a sense of comfort if theyre ever feeling lonely.

2. Bake Cookies or a Cake

Cooking or baking a recipe together is a fun way to spend quality time with your loved one, but it also gives them the opportunity to use math and problem solving techniques. You can have them measure out ingredients, read from the recipe book, or stir ingredients based on their stage. The best part about this is that you both can get a tasty treat as a reward for completing the task. This gives your loved one a sense of purpose and pride in being able to finish an activity with immediate positive reinforcement.

3. Animal Therapy

People with dementia may not be able to have pets of their own, but bringing over a dog or a cat for a short period of time can be extremely helpful for them. For one, their presence can help reduce the effects of dementia such as irritability, anxiety, loneliness, and agitation. But it can also give them a soothing and calming sensory sensation as they pet their furry friend. Pets can also help people with dementia become more interactive, which can be difficult for them in traditional social settings with other adults. Try to bring over a dog or cat and spend the afternoon with your loved one for a fun, useful activity.

4. Scented Sensory Cards

Your sense of smell is actually one of your senses that is most closely intertwined with your memory. Odors take a direct route to your limbic system, including the hippocampus, which is related to your memory and emotion. For that reason, reminding your loved one of familiar scents can help them remember certain memories and locations. You can fill plastic bags with familiar scents, like lavender or mint, and allow your loved one to try to make associations with each one. While candles arent the best choice, essential oil diffusers are a great way to safely warm their environment with comforting scents.

5. Coin Sorting

If you or your loved one has a jar of loose change, you can spend some time with them as they sort all of the coins into separate bowls. This can be soothing and satisfying for people with dementia, often giving them a sense of purpose with immediate tangible results.

6. Music Therapy

Music is a powerful treatment for dementia as it can improve cognitive function in people with dementia. In fact, people with dementia can often still enjoy music even when their ability to respond verbally is hindered. Try bringing a small speaker and playing a song from their childhood. This might soothe them and spark some memories that they associate with the music. Likewise, you can play calming tracks to ease their stress or anxiety after moments of tension.

7. Painting or Drawing

Even if your loved one isnt fully able to express themselves with words, they can still embrace their creative side through art. Bring some watercolor paints or crayons over and spend some time drawing pictures. This helps them stay occupied with a fun activity that they get to keep even after you leave. Plus, the pictures they draw may give you some insight into how they feel at that current moment in time.

8. Simple Puzzles

Who doesnt love puzzles? There is extreme satisfaction in putting together a puzzle and creating a work of art. Puzzle building can give your loved one a sense of purpose while also keeping their hands busy. While 1000 piece puzzles arent appropriate for most people with dementia, there are plenty of dementia-friendly jigsaws that can give your loved one something to do. If jigsaws arent quite their thing, you can get simple crosswords, word searches, or sudoku puzzles to keep their minds and hands engaged.

9. Make a Sensory Blanket

Patients with Alzheimers and dementia often fidget and feel restless. You can help alleviate these feelings by working with your loved one to construct a sensory blanket or sensory bag with toys and trinkets to keep their hands busy. If your patient loved knitting in the past, then adding some fun knobs to a blanket might be the perfect thing. Add some pieces of string, soft balls, or pockets that can be played with when their idle hands need to be stimulated. And if knitting is out of the question, you can fill a bag or box with sensory objects to keep their hands busy just as well. Old zippers, buttons, wind up toys, squeeze balls, and more can be a perfect distraction for your loved one.

10. Explore Nature

If your loved one is at home or residing in an assisted living facility, they probably yearn for a change of scenery. Something as simple as taking them outside for a few hours can mean the world to them. Getting some fresh air and being able to see new things can help break up the monotony that many people with dementia may feel. Something as simple as sitting on a bench and bird-watching can be exciting and different, making them feel happy and content. If theyre able, you can even take them for a short walk around the block. Exercise is still important for elderly individuals with dementia, so going for a walk, water aerobics, or going fishing can be a good combination of fun and physical activity.

In Conclusion

As people with dementia grow older, it becomes more important to keep their senses engaged so they remain comfortable and feel a sense of purpose. There are plenty of activities that you can share with your loved one while also providing a practical benefit. To engage their sense of touch, try building a photo album or organizing a coin jar. Both of these give your loved one a feeling of accomplishment and can also leave room for healthy discussion about their past memories. Engage with their sense of sound with some music therapy. Music is extremely helpful for patients with dementia, helping to soothe tension and reconnect with lost memories. Smell is another important sense to invigorate in people with dementia, as it is closely tied to memory. Try filing plastic bags with familiar scents to help remind them of another time in their life. You can also bake cookies or a cake to reward them with a tasty treat after a job well done. This gives them an immediate reward while also letting you spend some quality time on a joint activity. In short, just spending time with your loved one is almost always enough. Company and comfort is an essential way to make your loved ones day. But we also know you cant be there 24/7. Lightyear Health offers proactive, personalized and preventative patient-focused care to residents in assisted living communities. Our licensed team includes specialists in behavioral health and wellness, geriatric psychiatry, and musculoskeletal medicine. Contact us today to hear more about what we can offer for you and the ones you love most.   Sources: Alzheimer’s Disease: The Magic of Pets | BrightFocus Foundation How scent, emotion, and memory are intertwined and exploited | The Harvard Gazette

Subscribe to the
Lightyear Health Newsletter

We’re committed to helping patients and their loved ones. Get the latest research and advice sent directly to your inbox.