20 Practical Activities for people living with Alzheimer’s Disease

20 Practical Activities for people living with Alzheimer’s Disease

Found In: Activities Dementia Articles

20 activities for the elderly with dementia. The following ideas may be used on a one-to-one basis and others may be suitable for small groups depending on their abilities. These dementia activities are designed to promote and maintain existing skills.
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Developing practical, efficient and meaningful leisure programs for people with Alzheimer's Disease requires creative thinking.

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's Disease is a chronic and progressive condition characterized by the decline of cognitive functions such as reasoning, remembering and planning. It affects people in different ways; no two individuals will experience exactly the same progression of the disease. A person's personality, health and social situation are all important factors that influence the impact of dementia.

Related: What is dementia? Alzheimer's Disease vs Dementia

Finding activities for the elderly with Alzheimer's

Structured group activities very seldom work. Simple, brief activities offered several times a day are the most effective and beneficial types of activities for Alzheimer's.

Activities such as housework and simple games can help to maintain motor skills. Listening to music is also a very calming and engaging activity.

The focus should be on the person and not the condition. Try to match people with activities that suit their background and experience.

What sorts of activities are most effective?

The following ideas may be used on a one-to-one basis and others may be suitable for small groups depending on their abilities. Some of the activities suggested are Montessori based, developed to promote and maintain existing skills.

Some activities such as sorting, pairing, matching and puzzles should be offered once and then repeated twice during the week. Despite having poor recollection, people living with Alzheimer's can still learn through practice and repetition.

Most activities that require movement: grasping, pressing, pushing, gripping, extending, scooping and reaching are helpful in improving hand-eye coordination. These types of activities also provide sensory stimulation and promote well-being.

If utensils or tools are to be used, make sure they are adapted to the needs of individuals. Supervision at all times is essential.

20 Activities for people living with Alzheimer's Disease

1. Fiddle Box

Check your resident's profile and collect items according to his/her previous profession or occupation. Place items in a box and present it to the resident two or three times a day for a 'feel, touch & explore'.

Related: Fiddle boxes & other ideas to stimulate the senses

2. Deck of cards

Give your resident a deck of cards to be separated into suits: spades, hearts, diamond and clubs. All other cards should be removed from pack.

3. Music

Play folk or popular music from your resident's era – this never fails to please. Give residents percussion instruments to add to the fun.

Related: Free Music Playlists for the Elderly

4. Rubber Tipped Darts Game

This can be played by one or two people, each having three darts to throw. It does not injure players or damage walls.

5. Untying Knots

Buy a medium rope and tie a few simple knots. Ask resident to 'help' you untie the knots.

6. Threading Yarn or String

Buy large pasta loops for residents to string together with a thick yarn or thin rope.

7. Doll Therapy

Despite this being somewhat controversial, in my experience doll therapy works well and I would recommend recreation staff try it. The dolls should be dementia specific (and look like newborn babies). Buy a bassinet, a baby bath, a cot and lots of baby clothes. Female residents love to change clothes, wash, and put baby down for a nap.

Related: Doll Therapy and Dementia

8. Display of Insects

A display of worms or ants in a large glass container (placed in a secure place) is a good subject for conversation.

9. Fabric box

Provide a large cardboard box with dozens of pieces of assorted fabric inside it; silk, lace, felt, velvet, acrylic and wool. Sit 3 or 4 residents around a table and place fabric box in reach of all. Touch, feel and fold.

10. Beach ball

Buy a large beach ball and let sitting residents roll or kick it to each other from their chairs.

11. Fish tank

This provides visual stimulation and is a good topic for conversation.

Related: Snoezelen Rooms & Sensory Environments

12. Matching shapes

Matching shapes or pictures is a fun game combining sensory stimulation and thinking skills.

Related: Matching Shapes Activity

13. Pairing & Sorting

Similar to the above; residents will match pictures, shapes and other objects together.

Related: Pairing & Sorting Activity

14. Pom-Poms

Give residents colored pom-poms and provide containers of the same color. Residents will place pom-poms in the matching colored container.

Related: How to Make Pom-Poms

15. Golf Balls

Another inexpensive 'sorting by color' activity. Buy second hand golf balls and paint or spray in different colours. Give resident an ice-cream scoop to scoop the golf balls into containers of the same colour.

16. Picture Puzzle

Enlarge a photo of the resident or one of his close relatives. Laminate it and cut into four odd pieces for resident to put together. Alternatively: a colorful picture of a car, fruit or landscape also works well.

Related: Picture Puzzle Activity

17. Activities relating to the individual’s former life.

For instance, a carpenter may enjoy sanding a nice piece of wood, a post office worker may enjoy stamping envelopes, a home-maker may enjoy arranging pots and pans on a shelf etc.

Related: Daily Living Activities

18. Reminiscing

Long term memory can be retained by people living with dementia even as the illness progresses. Here are some suitable reminiscing activities:


19. Cutting pictures out of old calendars

Use safety scissors to cut pictures from calendars; collect enough pictures to make a poster to maintain dexterity and provide a sense of accomplishment.

20. Cup cake decorations

Buy a few dozen cup cakes. Make icing in two colours and put into piping bag. Assist residents to ice one or two cupcakes until they feel confident to do it on their own. Alternatively a plastic spatula will keep them busy and entertained for a while.

Related: 15 Activities for Late-Stage Alzheimer's Disease

We'd love to hear your feedback on activities for the elderly with Alzheimer's.
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Lynda Hamm 2nd Dec 2017
I teach sit down Qi Gong & some Two Chi. It's amazing what residents can do. I make it fun. Other activities I do with them is nursery rhymes...I start them, they finish them, she with old songs, trivial sayings like It' raining...., Beach ball kicks, and very interesting I give them capital city & They tell me what state. Interesting is that they knew all but 5. If course laughter, hugs, just getting into their world to make it an enjoyable time
Talita 4th Dec 2017
Love these ideas Lynda, thanks for sharing!
Shirley 21st Oct 2017
Hello Every One, There are so many great comments here. I am going to comment on one and give an idea that we do in my facility.
I am the memory care coordinator in my facility. Budget is always an issue for a small facility in a small town. There are activities that take little or no money to do. A folding box can be old towels, wash clothes or socks, a sorting game can be a deck of cards, a fiddle box can be some items that you may have at home and no longer need and an old purse make a great activity for some ladies.
In our memory care we have started a "My Story" book for each resident. we have a questionnaire we ask families to complete such as where I attended school, my favorite color, favorite food, When I married etc. We then take this information a write a story. We also ask the family for photos to go along with the story. we use our office printer to copy the photos then give the original photos back to the family. we add the photos to the story book. We ask family and friends to add stories to the book. we also add pictures we take to the book. We now have a wonderful on going story book we can reminisce with our resident and families with. We love our"My Story" book. I use a binder and plastic sleeve protectors as well as colored paper to attach pictures to and write our stores on. I use the sheet protectors so we can add more information to pictures and families can add information to pictures There is nothing fancy about our story book except for the stories inside. Many times I can find binders in the clearance section of Walmart after school starts. Our Walmart is also generous to donate items as well.
Thanks and I look forward to reading about great ideas and suggetions every day.
Talita 23rd Oct 2017
Thanks for your feedback Shirley. I love your 'My Story' book ideas, thank you for sharing! There is a template available on this website to capture short biographies of residents which others may find useful:
George Frazer 26th Sep 2017
You activities are wonderful for those in care homes. There is however one problem. If you are an activity person, it is you who is expected to pay for all materials that you use with residents on care home.
Care homes also have mixed residents - you may have those with dementia and also those with stroke or even parkinsons. All have to have separate activities to engage them.
There was the issue of activities fatigue as well raised. Activity therapists are "at the bottom of the pile" as far as being recognised in the caring/nursing environment. There is is little support provided for activity providers and you first have to motivate yourself before you embark on an activity with residents.
Your show a very "rosy" picture of life for an activity provider but this is far from the real world of low pay and little recognition.
Solange 29th Sep 2017
You are quite right George. Activity & Lifestyle workers don’t enter the industry for the paycheck. However very few leave because they are passionate about their chosen profession. I can’t speak for Ireland but in most countries, Activity Professionals have a monthly budget; they certainly are not expected to pay for materials. I am afraid you are feeling down because you are overworked. Consider requesting Management for a monthly budget and place an add in your church or supermarket community board for some volunteers to help you out with the workload. We are all in the same boat, it is not a ‘rosy’ job, but oh! so worthy and fulfilling; it is a privilege to engage with our elders.
All the best.
karen 2nd Mar 2017
While sorting out my activity boxes that are used with our Special Needs residents, I found my marbles/rubber bath mat activity. Turn the bath mat over and you have lots of rubber suction cups.With the resident, I then demonstate placing a marble on several suction cups. We also talk about the different sized/coloured marbles and make patterns. It's quite a relaxing activity as they watch/focus on the marbles.Also, I purchase boxes for each activity, label them and keep track of their contents. If staff wish to use them when AO's are not working, I remind them to return to the trolley when finished with. It's a shame if your hard work is misplaced. Education is key.Cheers all!
Talita 6th Mar 2017
Great ideas Karen. Thanks so much for sharing.
Teresa 1st Mar 2017
What would you recommend fo a former printer
Leigh 7th May 2016
Great ideas! I have a few ladies that will sort and fold socks for hours. They love it. And your laundry department will love you!
Kathleen 29th Feb 2016
I am working in a small facility and the residents with the very good cognitive skills ,want to stay in their room, there fore the residents that do come out into the activity room either have various stages of Dementia or visually Impaired .Has anybody got any ideas , as we only have 1 Therapy Assistant on at one time , the only activity that is popular is Bingo, the visually impaired residents like the quizs but the Dementia residents struggle.Kathy
Solange 1st Mar 2016
Hi Kathleen, try to involve them in simple craft and games. For instance colouring or painting mandalas or beach ball or balloons playing. Another simple activity is cutting pictures from magazines (with safety scissors) to make a posters for Easter or St Patrick's Day. Best wishes.
Whare Aroha CARE 11th Aug 2015
Love love these ideas there great.We have found a use for old scratched Cd,s making them into photo mobiles covering only one side with there photo leaving the other side to shine in the sunlight they love these good idea to put above there room doors to.
Chandani 27th Jul 2015
Those are the wonderful great idea we all are sharing together I work in facility most residents have Alzimas decease but all of them participate with different type of activities,that help to stimulate senses . I love to hear more feedback from other staff who invole for lifestyle activities
Doris 26th Jul 2015
What wonderful ideas.. I have been making activity blankets, and having a ball. This is a new project for me. Most people don't know how to make these things for their friends and loved ones.
I am going to make up several of these.
Thank You, for the ideas.
Maree 20th May 2015
An activity that our residents enjoy is hitting a balloon with fly swats, they will get increased exercise as they reach out to hit the balloon, purchased alot of fly swats and labeled them for activity use only.
Narelle 8th Feb 2016
Yes, we have used the fly swats and balloons, creating a lot of laughter amongst the residents...
Susan 18th Mar 2015
Love these ideas and today I am taking in my old button box to sort through with a resident. I thought I'd take in my big office pencil sharpener with the side handle to see if they would enjoy doing this too plus we get all the office pencils sharpened!
Also I am thinking of taking my shoe cleaning kit in to see if it nidges a some memories. All with me by their side of course...
Veronica 8th Mar 2015
Hello Carol. Don't beat yourself up over this. You will find that 1:1 is more beneficial and if they have dementia you won't be able to do group activities for any length of time. It is hard to do activities if they are asleep. As for the carers they don't understand 99% of the time. You are the Activity Officer and we think differently to others.
Carol 5th Mar 2015
Can anyone offer advice please?
Our nursing home is small and most residents wheelchair bound and sleepy with medications.
I am finding it extreamly difficult to engage residents therfore facing negativity from staff who me as not doing a good job.
1-2-1 they are more engaging but very difficult to do any group work. Help
Farzana Haroon 23rd Nov 2014
Thank you! so much for all the great ideas as I am learning, and going college to work with seniors. This really helps me a lot.
wendy 21st Oct 2014
maria some where deep inside your partner will still feel when your around you will have to be his memory sing tell storys he will love that
Solange 21st Oct 2014
Hi Maria,
Your husband is a very lucky man to have you. Taking care of someone with dementia is rather challenging and the most important aspect of this job you already have; love. Take one day at time and remember to look after yourself as well. Regarding activities just continue to do the usual at this early stage, and seek help when the illness progresses. I wish you all the luck!
maria 21st Oct 2014
Hi my partner he not yet in dementia the dr said he finally gonna by in that position i love him very much i so stress .he star to forget .please could you help me
Sandstrom Aged Care 4th Aug 2014
Jacqui 4 August 2014
Hi Melanie, you might like to try mobile snoezelen, decorate attrolley with lights and oil burner and take from room to room,residents really enjoy and find it very stimulating
Solange 30th Jun 2014
Hi Melanie,
You may try sensory blankets, individual balloon game, singing, sensory boxes, and poems reading. If your clients have severe communication deficit you may try to hang hand-made mobiles in their rooms with pictures of animals, flowers, children, scenery. Change the mobile every week. Also you could try to place a tall plant in their bedrooms in full view of the client. Good luck!
Melanie sarif 14th Jun 2014
Hi guys,
I really need help, I work in a nursing home and am in a part of the nursing home on Monday where my residents are in air beds. What other activities could you suggest besides sensory, hand massage.
Paula Walters 23rd May 2014
I have just started a new job as a therapist in a dementia ward & loving it, please help me with some ideas for the residents. Regards Paula.
COLLEEN J 27th Jun 2016
I have managed to source (from Residents Family/Op Shop/Garage Sales...anywhere!) an awesome collection of pretty organza scarves! I pick a short, moderate rhythm old-time song, and make up a sequence of movements to the music. The scarves 'float' magically through the air as their arm movements alow...up.....down....sideways....to the side...'twirl'-in-mid-air....lightly 'shake'..or even 'throw' it up in air - and catch again! Residents just absolutely love it! Can even get them to lift a leg----'flick the scarf under it! So many options for movement! And..they can also sing along whilst doing their exercises-without even realising they are exercising!! Activity is all seated. Loads of fun when you rope the Staff in to teach them your wee routine...& they do a mini concert then & there for the Residents-or along with them! S much fun, & you will find even the most challenging Resident----will take part! Enjoy this with your Residents!!
Stephanie 23rd Apr 2014
I am putting together a doll therapy program and a baby reminisce program. I would appreciate any ideas and approaches.
zoe 4th Mar 2014
Thanks for all you're fab ideas I am trying to do diffrent activitys and have had some great ideas. I'm going to make a memory box with memorys in and I mite also now make fiddle blankets :) please if anyone has any more ideas let me no I'm always looking for new things to do with the residents I am also applying for a social care facilitator job aswell so any advice or ideas for that would be fab thanks everyone! X
Solange 30th Jan 2014
Hi Seeja,

Regarding your comment about the lady who enjoys cleaning. I wouldn't try very hard to change what the lady is doing. She obviously has done cleaning and mopping before and she enjoys it.

I would keep inviting her to other activities and hopefully one day she decides to try something else. It is better to see them doing something they like and do well than frustrated doing something they don’t think they do well.

Kymberly 29th Jan 2014
I have table cloths that residents like folding - 'i ask if they could do me a favour first so they assume they're doing it to help out with my job' It seems to bring satisfaction, although honestly they go straight to the laundry to be washed
Sheeja 29th Jan 2014
Thanks for your great ideas.
I have a lady coming in my day care centre.She likes sweeping and mopping.Infact she thinks that she visits the day care centre for doing cleaning jobs.she never sits except for playing cards. I have tried so many activities but i couldnt recognise anything thats suits her.Please suggest some ideas.
liz 7th Jan 2014
Picture puzzles are a good way to engage the residents I use old calander for this and the residents love then.
Jenny Bracken 26th Dec 2013
I have my first day with activities next week. Trying to find many different things to occupy their minds. Woild like themed days for special events.
karen 13th Dec 2013
I regularly play music which we all sing/hum too.The fun really starts when we bring out the musical instruments. Staff come from far and wide and join in . The residents faces are priceless!
Give it a go. I purchased cheap, good quality instruments from Aldi ( awhile back now)
Michelle 30th Mar 2013
Sounds great, will use in my group assignment on activities for Alzheimer's Disease.
Veronica 9th Mar 2013
In the Dementia Ward where I did the Therapy the most exciting event we did was every Friday lunch when we had fish and chips. I would put servings of fish and chips with a little salt and wrap these in butchers paper. We would sit outside in our under cover area and unwrap the fish and chips and they would eat them with their fingers right down to dabbing their fingers on the salt. We would reminise holiday times at the beach which back in their time is where they used to go at holiday times. Not only for the reminiscing factor it even got the residents who wouldn't eat to eat their lunch. Occasionaly we would decorate with umbrellas and other seaside things.
Cypress Gardens Lifestyle Co-ordinator 12th Mar 2013
I have also done this a few times.
My residents were confused and asked for a plate, knife and fork.
Im going to try with a diffrent group on Friday .
Helen 5th Feb 2013
For Julieanne Here is a link to fiddle aprons, fiddle tablecloths etc. If you can sew you can make these cheaply. http://www.sensationsdcp.com.au/sense-apronsreg.html
dorothy 5th Feb 2013
in the unit we have 4 men very physically able we have started a mens shed with tins of screws , nuts , washers to sort , timber to sand and with a male volunteer there are a few happy hours wittled away chatting , laughing and sometimes deep conversations about the past i suggest if you have this situation discuss it with your manager it creates sometjing for men away from the female folk it gives validation, socalisation and boosts self esteem and self confidence reducing discontentment , depression and feelings of inadequecy.
julieann patterson 31st Jan 2013
I hqve been told about a wall hanger that has zips,materials lace and other things that have been sewn on material that hangs on the wall , I was wondering if you could help me with this as my father has dementia and I thought this would help him as well as the other people where he lives , I would like to make this if I had some sort of picture of it or an idea how to make it Regards julieann
Dianne 22nd Oct 2012
Cover a large table with table cloths. I use fitted sheets to cover my tables for activities. Put on the table a large assortment of artificial flowers, vases, twine etc. The visual sensory attracts everyone, including the men.
some will place flowers in vases, others will touch and reminisse. ive had the men twining bunches of flowers together for the ladies. be prepared for your residents to take tese to there rooms.. Keep any damaged flowers that have no stems as these are great for decorating hats for Melbourne Cup. We also make our own Anzac flowers during Flower Decorating. The reason I use a fitted sheet is to prevent it being pulled off and I can shake the excess into the bin after the activity
dorothy 25th Aug 2012
thanks for the ideas i will try them out in a special care unit
Lynne 1st Aug 2012
Thanks for the 16 dementia activities. I am a newbie as a Lifestyle assistant and am finding dementia activities tricky. Thanks for your great insight. Lynne Wright
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