Seniors with dementia need activities where they’re successful
Everyday activities can become too difficult for older adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
But, like all of us, they still have the need to feel successful.
That’s why failure-free activities for people with dementia are so important – they’ll always be successful, no matter what.
Being happily engaged in a satisfying activity reduces agitation, anxiety, depression, and anger. It may even reduce challenging behaviors like sundowning or reduce the need for medication.
To help your older adult feel productive and successful, we’ve got 10 simple activity ideas that have no right or wrong way to do them. Plus, they’re free or very low cost.
10 fantastic, failure-free activities for people with dementia
Each person is different, so it might take some experimenting or creative thinking to find activities that appeal to them.
Safety note: Avoid sharp objects and only give items that will be safe for your older adult. For example, if they tend to put things in their mouth or tie up body parts, avoid string, small items, or things that will break when bitten.
1) Fold towels
Asking an older adult to help you fold laundry is a great way to keep them occupied, give them an activity they can feel successful at, and help them feel like they’re contributing to the household.
The goal is just to keep them happily engaged. It’s best to use hand towels because they’re small and easily folded.
No matter how well or poorly the towels are folded, the point is that your older adult feels good about the activity.
2) Create a memory box
A memory or rummage box can help your older adult feel connected to their past career and previous hobbies.
Get any kind of box and fill it with things they would have used at work, copies of photos and non-important keepsakes, or objects from hobbies.
For example, for a former office worker, create a box that reminds them of their career. Include paper clips, pencils, erasers, paper, letters (junk mail), a calculator, file folders, notepads, etc. in the box.
If the person used to do handy work, put nuts, bolts, pvc pipe pieces and fittings, a piece of wood (no splinters), fine grit sandpaper, and twine in their box.
Someone who enjoyed cooking or baking might enjoy measuring spoons, a whisk, a spatula, and other related items.
This can work for any type of job or hobby, just be creative about finding objects that will be safe to handle.
3) Untie knots
Find our buy a length of medium-thickness rope from the local hardware store. Loosely tie a few simple knots and ask your older adult to help you untie them.
4) Thread pasta with yarn or string
Get some dry pasta with big holes and some thick yarn or regular string. Make a “needle” by taping around the end of the string, making it longer than the piece of pasta.
Have your older adult string the pasta using their “needle” and thread.
5) Create a box of fun fabrics
This is fun for everyone, but especially for someone who used to enjoy sewing or fabric crafts.
Get a box and put dozens of pieces of assorted fabrics inside. Try to get different colors and a variety of textures like lace, felt, silk, velvet, wool, cotton, etc.
Your older adult can enjoy touching, folding, and sorting the fabrics.
6) Make a DIY picture puzzle
Print a copy of a favorite family photo or scenery that’s special to your older adult. You could also print out a photo or image they like, like a car, colorful fruit, etc.
Laminate the photo and cut it into four (or more) puzzle-piece shaped pieces to make a personalized DIY puzzle.
7) Cut pictures from old magazines or calendars
Older adults might like leafing through old magazines or calendars and cutting out the images they like. It’s best to use magazines that reflect their hobbies or interests.
For those who’d enjoy it, they could also paste the pictures into a notebook, creating a fun “scrapbook.”
8) $7 Puzzle cube
This fun puzzle cube is brightly colored and can provide lots of no-pressure fun for older adults who like to fidget with objects. It’s like a simplified version of a Rubik’s cube.
The object of this game is to simply enjoy turning the cube pieces and creating different color combinations on each face.
Those who are able might enjoy mixing up the colors and returning the faces to a single color.
9) $10 Large print playing cards
Playing cards make a great activity for older adults, especially when the letters and numbers are large and easy to read.
Someone in early dementia might enjoy simple card games like solitaire, go fish, blackjack, or war. An older adult in later stages might enjoy simply shuffling the cards or separating them by color or suit.
Pay attention to their level of enjoyment. If they seem overwhelmed or frustrated, you may want to remove some of the cards so they don’t have to manage so many.
10) $16 Pattern blocks and boards
These fun shapes can be used in a variety of ways. Seniors can use the included boards to create colorful pictures, make free form shapes, or trace the shapes on paper.
Recommended for you:
- 6 Ways to Calm Dementia Fidgeting Hands
- Physical Activities for Seniors with Dementia: 12 Exercise Ideas
- 6 Sensory Activities for Dementia Calm and Soothe
By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Images: Hotel El Dorado, Anything But Bingo, Gone Outdoors, The Montessori Motherload, Craft Buds, Portrait Puzzles, Studio iHanna, Amazon (puzzle cube), Amazon (cards), Amazon (pattern blocks)
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My brother in law has vascular dementia. He used to work on cars, bake and fix things around the house. Now he floods the floor with water, pulls out and dirty an enormous amount of towels so we are washing continuously washing them. He hides things and takes the food out of the freezer and puts it in drawers. Sometimes he gets angered if you try to explain not to put dirty dishes in with the clean ones. What kind of activities would keep him occupied so he’s not doing these things.
That’s great thinking to find constructive activities to keep your brother-in-law’s attention. We’ve got dozens of suggestions here on our website – https://dailycaring.com/tag/alzheimers-dementia-activities/
You sound so loving and caring. I am 71 taking care of mama 95 with dementia Alzheimer’s. She keeps asking for all our dead relatives . Any ideas? Thank you for y our company.
We’ve got an article with tips on answering tough questions like these – Answer 3 Tough Questions from Seniors with Alzheimer’s https://dailycaring.com/answer-tough-questions-from-seniors-with-alzheimers-expert-advice/
I have an extraordinarily busy mom. She simply cannot be still, not even a moment. She is physically in remarkable health, so keeping up with her has become a problem. Do you have suggestions for working on focus & attention span issues?
When someone has dementia, their cognitive abilities are declining so it’s not possible to expect them to learn or improve their focus or attention span.
To keep her occupied, find a variety of activities that she enjoys so she always has something to do. We’ve got plenty of dementia activity suggestions here – https://dailycaring.com/tag/alzheimers-dementia-activities/
Music is also a wonderful thing to those with dementia . Alexa if possible has many options . Alexa’s play 50’s pop. She grew up listening to this music. 60’s top 40 etc she was saying at this time. She can’t make tea or toast or hold a “normal conversation” most of the time but she will sing every word of the songs she knows and it happy and upbeat.
It’s wonderful that she enjoys the music so much! Fantastic tip, thanks for sharing.
My husband has dementia. I am looking for clear vinyl labels to let him know where things are. Any suggestions?
A simple and flexible solution is to make your own labels with regular paper and “laminating” them with clear packing tape.
thanks for your support that is ideal for patients with difficult to remember things can help them fill their day and training their thinking abilities somehow. I am volunteering my time for searching to find such as you who are willing to inspire others with their valuable things and give to patients with memory difficult.
You’re very welcome! We’re so glad these suggestions are helpful.
Hi can you give me a easy way of putting a person who isn’t mobile to bed
It sounds like you might be looking for information on safe transfers. We’ve got an article with tips that might be helpful – How to Help Seniors Get Up Without Injuring Yourself: Safe Transfer Techniques at https://dailycaring.com/how-to-help-seniors-get-up-without-injuring-yourself-safe-transfer-techniques-video/
From a wheel chair you can get a slide board to slide hem from the chair to the bed
Hi my name is daxa. I am working at nursing home as a activity coordinator so I need some ideas. This is very helpful for me. Thanks
So glad this article is helpful! We’ve got a section of our website dedicated to activity ideas for older adults here – https://dailycaring.com/category/daily-care/activities-older-adults/
Hi there I am an activity coordinator I need some help with activities for adult I would be grateful for any fresh ideas
We’ve got dozens of articles with senior-friendly activity ideas here on our website – https://dailycaring.com/category/daily-care/activities-older-adults/
We hope you’ll be able to find some new ideas that your residents will enjoy!
Hi my name is Maggie.I am an Activity assistant.Here are a few activities that I do with residents with Dementia or Alhiemers. Sing-a-longs. White board: We play jeapody. Memory games.I will place letters,pictures,birds,numbers,colors,etc on the white board and take away one..two..then ask them what I took away.Trivia for 30’s, 40’s or 50’s.Tic Tac Toe on the white board.I spy with my little eye..things in the room.I also do crafts.Reading group.Painting.We read the newspaper…only the good things and of course Dear Abby.Movie time with drinks and snacks.Flower arrangments.
These are wonderful activity suggestions! Thanks for sharing 💜
I am an activity coordinator, many people I work with have middle to late stages of dementia, I find activities to suit all. We have a handful of people who haven’t dementia, they join in a couple of activities if it appeals to them, but mainly likes to stay in their room doing their knitting etc. I have one lady who wants to do more, she only been with us for a few weeks and keeps saying she is bored, she complains that people don’t talk to her, and when an activity is on she gets quite frustrated and says it’s too childish, or there is not enough activities on, I accommodate her as much as possible, I give her one to one, she plays bingo then complains it’s not enough people, I do quizzes, planting, bakery, arts crafts, she hates music and singing. She don’t like knitting, sewing, reading. I offered to have a game of cards with her, and have asked her what she would like to do, answer is always the same, she not interested in nothing, then complains there is not enough activities we a small home of 33 residents. So any help will be welcomed, she is quite hard of hearing as well. I just want her to be happy.
It’s wonderful that you’re so thoughtful in helping your residents find activities that suit them.
It’s possible that this new resident needs more time to adjust to her new living situation and isn’t necessarily complaining about the specific activities. Moving is a big change and she may be feeling out of sorts and so, is expressing that through these complaints.
Perhaps you could speak with her with the goal of getting to know her better. Developing a relationship with her might help her feel more comfortable and give you clues to the types of activities that would interest her.
Get clear glue and different plastic tops (margarine, yogurt etc) “fill/apply” clear elmers glue and place “flattened “ marbles in a pattern on top over glue. Let dry for about 4 days. Pop out of plastic lid. Either affix to magnet or hang in windows.
Wonderful idea, thanks for sharing!
Angela M Camp
I live with an elderly lady with dementia who can’t read, she can sign her name but doesn’t like anything to do with writing or coloring. So I blew up 2 small balloons and 1 large balloon, we use the small ones to hit the large one back and forth to each other. She loves it !
Fantastic idea, that sounds like a lot of fun!
Is there a monthly magazine subscription to come in mail for this website? If so, I’d love to sign up!
Thank you for your interest! We don’t offer any printed materials, but we hope you’ll sign up for our free daily email newsletter at https://mailchi.mp/dailycaring/emailsignup
My mother has just recently had to go into memory care assisted living but she is bored and laments not doing anything productive. Prior to having to live where she is, she was cleaning, doing dishes etc. I am in desperate need of tasks that are meaningful that she can do at the facility. She is not far enough along to be fooled by repeated busy work, and it makes her mad when people try to get her to do “pointless” tasks.
I need help with suggestions.
It sounds like the type of productive activities she could do will depend on her living environment. She may be able to clean her own room, fold her own laundry, etc. Look around for these types of everyday activities that she’s still able and willing to do.
It might also be worthwhile to speak with the administrator to see if there are small tasks that she would be able to help. This would really depend on if there’s a match between getting the facility staff’s OK and the type of activity that she would want to do.
One thing I didn’t see in this article is when a dementia patient asks about someone who has passed away, do you tell them that? My sister asks to see our Mom and Dad who have been gone for many years. Also, this article talks about the “older” persons with dementia. Many are not older. My sister is only 57, 16 years younger than myself.
That’s a great question. We’ve got suggestions for how to handle that situation in this article — https://dailycaring.com/answer-tough-questions-from-seniors-with-alzheimers-expert-advice/
Our website is dedicated to families who are caring for older adults, so we often refer to someone as an older adult or senior. But the Alzheimer’s and dementia tips and resources typically apply to anyone with dementia at any age.
Do you have any suggestions for someone with dementia who also has limited vision from macular degeneration?
Great question! We’ve got an article on this exact topic that will hopefully have some helpful suggestions — http://dailycaring.com/9-activities-for-low-vision-seniors-with-alzheimers-or-dementia/
You may also find that sensory activities (focused on touch or smell) would be enjoyable — http://dailycaring.com/6-alzheimers-sensory-activities-reduce-anxiety-without-medication/
Or even “fiddle” based activities for the hands that don’t require sight — http://dailycaring.com/6-ways-to-help-seniors-with-alzheimers-keep-hands-busy/