Activities can enhance our self- esteem, help us to engage with the world around us and give meaning to our lives.
Activities can provide stimulation and variety and can help people who are living with dementia to remain engaged and included in the world around them. Activities may be structured but may also emerge from day-to-day tasks in and around the home.
Activities provide a structure for the daily lives of people with dementia but they may need help organising their days. Activities enable them to retain their life skills and learn some new ones. Activities done with another person in the home or with others provide opportunities for social interaction.
To ensure activities are suited to a person with dementia the following should be considered:
- What are the person’s likes and dislikes, abilities, and past interests?
- Is the person able to initiate activities independently?
- Is the person physically able to do an activity?
- Does the person have sight, hearing, or perceptual problems that might significantly affect his/her capacity to undertake an activity
Over time dementia can affect a person’s confidence, intellect, memory, ability to think logically, and the ability to understand and process language.
It is important to make activities for the person with dementia part of the daily routine. The person with dementia can do a variety of tasks. It does not matter if the task is not completed properly! If the table is not fully set or the towels are not folded neatly, adjustments can be made discreetly later. As dementia progresses it may be necessary to change the tasks to more simple repetitive ones. A successful ‘activity’ may last only a few minutes depending on the stage of dementia. A few minutes spent at a pleasurable or useful activity can bring satisfaction and help the person’s self-esteem.
A family member, friend or even a carer has an important role in prompting the person to do an activity. He/she can break an activity in to small manageable parts, assist with difficult parts of a task, and offer encouragement. A person with dementia may respond positively if a specific request for help is made- “Would you please stir this for me?” or “Please sweep the floor” (while handing a brush to the person). If somebody shares an activity with the person with dementia, it provides an opportunity for social contact and conversation. Some activities provide opportunities for moderate exercise e.g. standing up to dry dishes, sweeping the floor, or sweeping the path.
What matters is that the person with dementia feels a sense of inclusion in the tasks being done
A person with dementia may become uncomfortable, frightened, or confused by the environment if it is too hot or too cold, is noisy, or if there are too many people around. A person with dementia may be distracted by excessive background noise from a radio or TV.
Ensure the person with dementia uses materials that are safe, e.g. non-toxic paints, and avoid sharp tools. The environment can be used to stimulate activities. Indoors, items such as photo albums, old magazines, cards, and household items can be used for activities. Outdoors, light gardening and bird tables can generate activities.
Engaging Activities in the Home
General Home Tasks
General household tasks can provide a variety of activities for the person with dementia. The person may have previously enjoyed doing household tasks and may feel useful if encouraged to do some simple ones. The person might not previously have participated in household tasks, or might not have enjoyed them, but would enjoy tasks like watering plants, arranging flowers or feeding pets or birds.
It is important to think creatively and adapt the task to fit the ability level of the person.
- Some people with dementia would be unable to use an electric vacuum cleaner but might find it easy to use a lightweight carpet sweeper.
- Some tasks, which are usually done standing up e.g. drying dishes, might be done sitting down.
Your approach needs to be flexible and realistic using prompting and encouragement rather than criticism and correction
Avoid giving too much supervision and direction. If the person is criticised and corrected he/she may become reluctant to engage in the activity again. If the floor has to be swept again it can be done later to avoid drawing attention to a task that has not been done properly. Some tasks such as washing and drying dishes or folding sheets can be joint activities and can promote conversation and social contact.
List of possible tasks:
- Cleaning a window (water and wiper)
- Re- organising food cupboard
- Hand washing small items e.g. socks
- Setting/ Clearing the table
- Hanging out the washing
- Washing/drying dishes
- Folding sheets/towels (with help)
- Tidying drawers
- Sorting/matching socks
- Arranging flowers
- Dusting Watering plants/window boxes
- Sweeping/Mopping floor
- Feeding pets
- Using carpet sweeper
- Stocking a bird table
- Polishing brass or silver
- Making a shopping list
It is important to focus on the benefit of exercise and occupation to the person and the sense of achievement and inclusion that the person can derive from participating in a household activity even if the person can do the task for only a few minutes a few times a day.
Different kinds of Activities
People with dementia participate in routine activities of personal care and eating and drinking but many may not have the opportunity of helping with household tasks, or undertaking intellectual, spiritual, or creative activities.
Importance of exercise suited to the person
Many people do not have the opportunity of taking enough exercise. If they spend too much time sitting, dozing, or watching television all day it may cause them to be restless and wakeful at night.
If there are problems with mobility, exercises in a chair to music suited to that person can be an enjoyable experience.
Walking can include discussion about the surrounding countryside or area, people or animals encountered along the way. Even walking around the garden is an opportunity for gentle exercise while engaging in conversation about flowers, plants etc.
Although most people do well with a routine, if possible new activities should occasionally be tried and activities varied from day to day according to the mood and interest of the person and the weather and season.
Personal Care Activities: bathing, showering, shaving and dressing
Mealtime Activities: preparing food, cooking, eating and drinking
Household Tasks: dusting, sweeping, cleaning worktops, washing or sorting socks or folding towels.
Other types of Activities
Physical: taking a walk, dancing, light gardening
Social: having tea/coffee, attending a family gathering, talking or playing cards or bingo, reminiscing with friend or neighbour
Intellectual: reading a book or magazine or doing a crossword puzzle
Spiritual: praying, listening to religious service, singing a hymn
Creative: painting, using pottery clay, playing musical instrument, creating a Life Story Book with family help
Relaxing: resting, looking out the window, petting an animal, having a foot bath or hand massage
Spontaneous: going on a picnic or visiting friends
Read or download the below resources:
- Activities for daily living factsheet
- 101 Activity suggestions for people living with dementia
- Maintaining skills factsheet
- Practical tips for living well with dementia
- Practical steps to promote your independence
Call the National Helpline on 1800 341 341 -We have a separate fact sheet on making a Life Story Book, Sorting and Tidying, Making and using a Conversation/ Memory Box.
Apps for people with dementia & carers
There is a range of apps available to help people with dementia live more independently, including apps on reminiscence, brain training, puzzles, medicine reminder apps, apps that alert a carer if the user falls or wanders as well as reminder apps that alert you to complete or undertake a task.
- My House of Memories (iOS & Android) – The app allows you to explore objects from the past and share memories together. The app has pictures of objects from across the decades, which are brought to life with sound, music and descriptions, and provide an easy-to-use way to help people living with dementia explore things that resonate with them.
- IFI (Irish Film Institute) Player (iOS & Android) – You can browse through over 100 years of short films, newsreels, animations and documentaries. You can browse by category and by specific collections as well as searching by date, location and area of interest.
- Lumosity (iOS, Android & Desktop) – is a brain training app which focuses on memory, attention, flexibility, processing speed, problem solving
- Hello Brain Health (iOS & Android) – Trinity Dublin developed an app and website (http://www.hellobrain.eu/en) to challenge the brain in the major areas: physical, social, mental, attitude and lifestyle.
- Memory Game Concentration (Android) – is a card game in which all of the cards are laid face down on a surface and two cards are flipped face up over each turn. The objective of the game is to turn over pairs of matching cards.
- Mind Mate (iOS, Android & Desktop) – the app combines brain games, healthy nutrition, regular exercise and social interaction.
- Young Onset Dementia (iOS & Android) -this UK app can be used by patients themselves or by carers and professional at the time of diagnosis so that in their own time, patients and family members can use expert guidance to help them to deal with all aspects of their diagnosis.
- Jointly (iOS, Android & Desktop) – the app is designed to make caring a little easier, less stressful and a lot more organised. It combines group messaging with other useful features including to-do and medication lists, calendar and more! Use it with others or on your own.
- Dementia Emergency (iOS & Android) – The app is for emergency service personnel and family carers to help them deal with emergency situations involving people living with dementia. It includes general advice on how to approach someone with mid to later stage dementia who is anxious or upset and guidance on dealing with specific situations.
These apps remind you when your medication is due to be taken. Some of these apps provide an audible reminder when you need to take your medications, while others can provide a visual alert. Pill reminder apps will not work if your phone has no signal, if you put your phone on silent, if your phone’s battery runs out or if you do not have your phone with you.
- Pill Reminder (iOS): app that alerts you when you need to take your medicine or refill a prescription. The app has a range of audible alert sounds including an extra loud reminder which may be useful if someone has hearing difficulties. The app has a built-in database of medicines so you can also access information like dosage and side effects for your medication. It lets you add photos of your medication so it is easy to recognise even if the writing on the packets is small. The app also keeps a history of when medications are taken or missed.
- MedCoach (Android & iOS): app that helps you remember to take your medications and pills. You can set up multiple alarms, log the pills you have taken, and there are automatic reminders when you need to refill your prescription. The app links through to a medication database that provides information on medicines.
- Medisafe (Android & iOS) – This app is a medication reminder will let you know what pills you’ve taken and what’s coming up. You can be notified when your prescriptions are running low so you are never without your medication. You can add a family member as a ‘Medfriend’ to send them a notification if you accidentally miss a medication.
Fall Detection Apps
These apps are designed to alert a carer or family member if the user has fallen over.
- iFall (Android): app that uses the phone’s accelerometer (measures force and acceleration) and tries to detect when a fall has occurred. If a fall is detected, the user is issued a prompt which gives them a chance to clear if it is a false alert. If the alert times out without a user response, their emergency contact is called.
- Fall Alert (Android): app that triggers an alarm if you fall, sending an automatic SMS or phone call to your designated number. GPS coordinates will be attached in the SMS message. It is also possible to activate the function by pressing the ‘Panic’ button in the app.
- Fall Detection (iOS): app that uses the phone accelerometer to detect if you have a fall. If a fall is detected an email or text message is sent to your designated recipients, providing your GPS location and street address.
These apps are designed to alert a carer or family member if the user wanders off, becomes disorientated or gets lost.
- iWander (iOS & Android): an application that utilises GPS and other locating technologies to identify the location of smartphones on which the app is installed.
- It’s Done! (iOS): this reminder app helps confirm if you have completed tasks throughout the day. You tick ‘Done’ for each of your routine tasks, like locking the door, then later if you can not remember if you locked the door, the It’s Done! app confirms that the task has been completed. The app can also send a text message or email to others when a task is done, so family or carers can be at ease that the oven has been turned off etc.
Activities for Later Stages of Dementia
Sensory stimulation given with a warm and gentle approach may be enjoyable for someone with dementia, even if he/she is unable to respond verbally, and is not physically active. These activities can be enjoyed at any stage but particularly as dementia progresses.
Listening to familiar music, being read to from favourite books or poetry collections, having prayers said, looking at- family photographs, watching babies or young children or animals, smelling flowers, eating small tasty treats, and feeling a variety of different fabrics, objects, and soft toys are also enjoyable experiences.
Personal care activities that involve touching such as gentle brushing of hair, using a foot spa, having a neck or hand massage with scented oils or lotions may also be soothing and comforting to a person with dementia.