12 Engaging Activities for Seniors with Dementia: Reduce Agitation and Boost Mood

activities for seniors with dementia

Engaging activities help seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia

Everyone needs to feel engaged and entertained. Just because someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia doesn’t mean that need disappears.

Because of their cognitive decline, how seniors get that engagement may have to change. Activities with no right or wrong are highly recommended because they’re fun, satisfying, and give a much-needed sense of accomplishment.

These activities can also be an effective alternative to using medications to reduce agitation, challenging behavior, and unhappy moods. We’ve got a dozen recommendations from an geriatric nurse practitioner experienced in dementia care.




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Dozens of activity ideas for cognitive impairment

Ann Kositsky is a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner at ElderConsult Geriatric Medicine. At a recent dementia care conference, she shared dozens of activities for seniors with dementia.

She’s used them to reduce anxiety, distract from challenging behavior, and bring joy to people with cognitive impairments.

 

They’re not just simple children’s toys

Don’t be misled or discouraged by the appearance of these activities. Some may have been made for children, but the way older adults experience them is completely different.

For example, a toy tool box might allow dad to safely recreate happy memories of the home repairs he made to keep the house in great shape. A Saturday Morning Post puzzle could take your spouse back to their childhood. The singing puppy gives warm hugs and its cheerful song brings a smile to anyone’s face. (At the conference, the entire room spontaneously clapped and sang along when Ann played the song!)

Even though these activities have been stereotyped as children’s toys, don’t let that stop you from offering them to your older adult. If an activity engages them, brings joy, and reduces troubling behaviors, who cares what the label says?

 

12 engaging activities for seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s

(Click product links for details — pricing may change over time.)

activities for seniors with dementia

1. $10 Melissa and Doug 7-piece tool puzzle
This 7-piece puzzle has a variety of chunky, easy-to-grasp tools.

 

activities for seniors with dementia

2. $11 Color and shape puzzle
This is a colorful and fun puzzle with easily identifiable shapes and images.

 

activities for seniors with dementia   

3. $13 Dog hardcover book
This hardcover book has thick, easy-to-turn pages and large beautiful pictures of all kinds of dogs.

4. $16 Cat hardcover book
This hardcover book has thick, easy-to-turn pages and large beautiful pictures of all kinds of cats.

 

activities for seniors with dementia

5. $14 Wooden 24-piece tool box kit
This 24-piece set includes wooden tools, nails, screws, nuts, and bolts.

 

activities for seniors with dementia

6. $15 Wheelee ball
This is an inflatable ball surrounded by a soft foam ring. It’s easy to throw and catch.

 

activities for seniors with dementia

7. $20 Vintage Saturday Evening Post 6-piece puzzles
These lovely 6-piece puzzles are replicas of vintage prints from the Saturday Evening Post magazine, a staple in many households when seniors were young.

8. $24 Vintage Saturday Evening Post 12-piece puzzles
These lovely 12-piece puzzles are replicas of vintage prints from the Saturday Evening Post magazine, a staple in many households when seniors were young.

 

activities for seniors with dementia

9. $25 Deluxe latches board
This well-crafted board is brightly colored and has polished metal locks, latches and clasps. Each door opens to has a fun picture.

 

activities for seniors with dementia

10. $30 (sale $24) Plastic nuts & bolts set with 64 pieces
These brightly colored plastic nuts and bolts provide hours of safe fun. You can attach and detach the nuts and bolts or sort by color or shape.

 

activities for seniors with dementia

11. $40 (sale $27) My Little Puppy singing plush puppy
This soft, cuddly puppy is 10″ tall and sings “If You’re Happy And You Know It.” The best part? It claps hands and ears along with the song! Batteries included.

 

activities for seniors with dementia

12. $90 Lock Box game
This is a well-built hardwood box with with 3 separate compartments, 10 doors, and 10 different latches. For extra fun, put snacks or small keepsakes inside the box for your older adult to discover.

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Circles Disability Support

 

This article wasn’t sponsored, but does contain affiliate links. We never link to products for the sole purpose of making a commission. Product recommendations are based on our honest opinions. For more information, see How We Make Money.

30 Comments

  • Reply June 26, 2018

    Chriss Martorelli

    What if my husband, who has mild cognitive impairment, is very lazy, shows no interest in anything but TV (mostly reruns) and refuses any physical activity. Now he is oxygen which limits him even more. He was told to do minor exercises, brain puzzles on the computer, but acts like it is all too hard. ?His only interest is eating and he weighs over 300 lbs.

    • Reply June 27, 2018

      DailyCaring

      This is definitely a challenging situation. Sometimes it can be really tough for someone with cognitive impairment to do activities that we see as simple. It’s possible that he needs less complex puzzles or activities so he will feel successful and not feel frustrated or anxious. If he feels like he’s failing, that may be one reason why he refuses to do anything at all. Watching TV, especially shows that he’s seen before, may be easier for his brain to process. Physical activity can be difficult for someone who is overweight. Starting slowly and just doing a tiny bit of activity and building up little by little may help — even just walking around the house once or twice can be a good start. Maybe serving meals or snacks in another room would get him to walk at least a little bit.

  • Reply June 16, 2018

    Barbara

    We’re new with this horrible disease. My Husband biggest disappointment in life is that he always has been our Designated Driver. Mainly because he loves to drive And always enjoyed taking drives just about anywhere & everywhere. He never even let me drive. I have to add that I was always put down by him if I drive with him in our car. In other words-he makes me feel like I am a teen who is about to take the Driving exam! Yes, he’s always the real Backseat Driver. I’m scared & nervous to be behind the wheel when he’s in the car yelling at me. His disease hasn’t changed his rage while I’m driving. Note: I’ve never had an accident, or complaints from anyone else concerning my driving. He truly wants to continue to drive. There’s No Way that he could drive while he’s alone in the car mainly because he’ll forget his keys, his direction, or lock himself out-or in. What can I do to get thru to him that we can drive in the car as long as I- or someone else drives!??? Thank you for any help you can give me! Barbara

  • Reply May 15, 2018

    Aunt Gracie

    Old issues of SI are handy for engaging the aging sports buff. I always enjoy hearing about the Raiders in the ’60s, the year Tommy Aaron won the Masters, etc

  • Reply March 27, 2018

    James Conley

    I’ve worked in memory care for many many years. I have used hundreds of activities over the years. The key is that each person is different, oh some may like a lot of the same kind of activities in general but there’s always that one thing that completely engages that person, the trick is to find it. Ask families, read history and don’t give up until you find it!

  • Reply February 25, 2018

    Valarie Gaylord

    I think I’ll check out my day care toys and set some on mom’s table, see what she gravitates to. At this point suggesting or modeling isn’t working, but maybe if I just leave them out, she’ll engage in one. Thanks for the great ideas!

    • Reply February 25, 2018

      DailyCaring

      That’s a fantastic approach!! Maybe she’ll feel more free to try things out that way 💜

  • Reply January 3, 2018

    Jean Skolfield

    My husband who has dementia recently spent two weeks in a Transitional Care facility after five days in thee hospital. One activity he seemed to enjoy and always got him engaged was batting a balloon back and forth. A cheap and fun activity.

    • Reply January 3, 2018

      DailyCaring

      That’s a fantastic, fun activity! Thank you for sharing! Batting the balloon is also a great way to work on those upper body muscles too 🙂

  • Reply July 21, 2017

    Jody Merritt

    Do you have something for a blind person?

  • Reply May 3, 2017

    Ann Marie Lasinski

    These are great. I do not look at it as age appropriate anymore, but stage appropriate. I bought my husband the plumbing pipes to put together that are also colorful. I also have some colorful Leggos he enjoys.

    • Reply May 3, 2017

      DailyCaring

      That’s a fantastic way to think about it! With dementia, someone’s cognitive ability is more important than their physical age. I hope your husband enjoys the wonderful activities you got for him! 💜

  • Reply December 22, 2016

    kathy glaze

    I’m sorry but if you put a of these things in front of me, expect me to fling them off table. I have been the manager of a dementia unit and done activities work and as someone who has had Parkinson’s for 16 yeas and looking forward to a greater chance of dementia – I want to reminiscence and sort things. And not reminiscing about The Saturday Evening Post but try The Rolling Stone instead. And play the Beatles.

    • Reply December 22, 2016

      DailyCaring

      Each person will enjoy different activities, so it’s good to have a variety of options to choose from. Our suggestions are here as a starting point to help caregivers brainstorm. Thanks for sharing your ideas, there are many people who would probably enjoy The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

    • Reply May 4, 2017

      Peggy M

      The residents I work with wouldn’t even remember The Rolling Stones or any songs that the Beatles sang, but play the 1940s songs for them with Jimmy Dorsey or Ella Fitzgerald, or Frank Sinatra, or Dean Martin and they will sing each song word for word. That’s the problem I have when someone tries to bring up artists from my era and not theirs. Sometimes they try and push these songs on them because they like them. I buy the CDs at the thrift store and always surprise them with songs from their era.

  • Reply December 20, 2016

    Joy Gerardi

    The puzzles would be good for my mom….but the child toys…would not go over well with my Mom….There are times she feels like she is being treated like a child…and she is…that is her mentality at times…but she doesn’t feel like one…this would be one of those situations…They played a great game with my mom at Ashley Gardens Alzheimer’s Care Unit, Charleston, SC…where my Mom lives….

    They sat around and listened to specific sounds…like the sounds you hear in the grocery store, at a wedding, the airport….and then once they guessed what the sounds were, they were asked about their experiences…like what was the name of the grocery you went to…how many people were at your wedding…it really engaged them….one woman was asked…What do you remember about your your wedding? she answered, “The Honeymoon!”

    • Reply December 20, 2016

      DailyCaring

      Everyone is different so it’s important to find activities that are interesting and fun for your older adult. I love the sound game idea! That’s a great way to use imagination and encourage reminiscence.

  • Reply October 12, 2016

    Deanna

    Loved these ideas. My mother’s physical therapists had her squeeze clothes pins onto a stick. Took her a minute to get the concept, but stuck with the task.

    • Reply October 12, 2016

      Connie Chow

      That’s a fantastic activity idea! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Reply August 22, 2016

    Debbie Zeis

    It doesn’t show the star board the lady is working on in the picture, or a price.

    • Reply August 22, 2016

      Connie Chow

      That specific activity wasn’t part of this article, but it looks like something you could make. For a simple version, get a large piece of white poster board and draw or stamp large shapes on it in different colors. You could use stars like in this photo or choose squares or circles or triangles. Then get small blocks or something similar in matching colors. These types of supplies can be purchased inexpensively at local craft stores or large chains like Michaels. On Amazon, you might be interested in these color matching games — http://amzn.to/2brd66Y

  • Reply March 6, 2016

    Laurie

    These are wonderful. My husband made some animal wooden puzzles for my mother and she really enjoyed them.

    • Reply March 6, 2016

      Connie Chow

      How wonderful that your husband was able to do that! I’m glad your mom was able to enjoy such a thoughtful gift 🙂 Best, Connie

  • Reply February 29, 2016

    Kathy

    These are great! We have many of the Melissa & Doug toys for my sons. It would be great if parents donate the toys to adult day care to get new use out of them. I never thought of the significance of the puzzles.

    • Reply February 29, 2016

      Connie Chow

      Hi Kathy — I’m so glad this article was helpful! It would certainly be wonderful if people donated gently used items to organizations that could put them to good use 🙂 Great idea! Best, Connie

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