When you’re caring for person with Alzheimer’s, you’ll likely find yourself (at some point) wondering if there are things you could do better. It’s natural, after all (especially when you’re caring for a loved one) to want to make his or her days as enjoyable as possible. Fortunately, there are activities for Alzheimer’s patients and games for Alzheimer’s patients that can help to add more fun and stimulation to daily life. Of course, because Alzheimer’s disease typically progresses through different stages, Alzheimer’s games and activities that worked well during one stage may not work well during another and that’s o.k. Don’t be hard on yourself and recognize that as situations change, your creativity is given a new chance to shine.
Three Games and Activities for Alzheimer’s Patients
When I first decided to take my mother to support/therapy group for patients with Alzheimers, I was very skeptical and nervous. I was so scared to leave her with strangers for hours at a time. But, at the same time, I knew I needed that time for myself. The result — I got some “me” time and I also learned a lot of useful things about how to positively structure a day for a person with Alzheimer’s.
1. Plan specific activites for Alzheimer’s patients for each day (or for as many days as you can). The moments of play (no matter how short) are beneficial for you, your loved one, and your other family members.
Whenever I picked my mother up after two hours with her support group, I found her smiling. Each day, the group leaders organized different sorts of activities. There might be some light exercise (stretching, movements while in a chair), then socializing and snack, and then a more cognitively stimulating session like fun memory games (guessing games and age-appropriate “Name that Tune”), open-ended questions that stimulate the long-term memory, or simple crossword puzzles. Other activities for Alzheimer’s that I noticed worked well were musical activities (singing songs and following rhythms with instruments) and doll play. For my mother in particular, caressing, dressing, and generally caring for a doll was very soothing. I would never have guessed that this could be such a great Alzheimer’s game! Other possible activitites for Alzheimer’s patients include: simple bingo and playing with a colorful parachute. These can work well at home if you engage extended family and any children or teens in the home.
2. Focus on what your loved one CAN do.
There are many activities my mother can still do, especially if I help her to break them down into simple steps.
My mother really appreciates being responsible for small tasks, especially domestic ones. She can match socks, fold napkins, set the table, wash dishes, water plants, and dust. While these may not seem like exciting activities to you, they are stimulting and productive for an Alzheimer’s patient. And don’t underestimate having your loved one in the room with you while you engage in an activity like cooking or unpacking the shopping. Even quiet companionship can go a long way.
3. Engage the Senses: Vision, Hearing, Touch, Smell, and Taste
Alzheimer’s games and activities for Alzheimer’s patients can be more enjoyable when they stimulate different senses. Too often we focus on speech and vision but =take touch, taste, and smell for granted — different textures can be enjoyale (try offering various types of cloth in different fabrics to fold), play a guessing game that involves smelling items, and provide your loved one with favorite foods.
Here are more sense-specific ideas for activites for Alzheimer’s patients:
Listening to music can be calming, can bring back memories of happy times, and generally improve quality of life. You can listen to music at home or attend small live events. I found that choir rehearsals at our local church were perfect — not too crowded or loud.
I also like to have relaxing music playing during mealtimes and as we wind down at the end of the day. In this way, music helps to signal and support routines like eating and sleeping and helps to keep my mother on a schedule. Try to pick pieces that have an even tempo, are soothing, and are mostly instrumental, like classical or new age genres.
If you and your loved one like to sing, choose simple, well-known tunes that are short and catchy. If you’re loved one is still reading, you can write down the lyrics, but don’t get too caught up in the words, the importance lies in the joy of participation. Tapping to the beat, shaking an instrument, humming, and chair “dancing” are all fulfilling activities, too.
And when you’re not making music, or using it as a backdrop, remember it can also stimulate longterm memories which your loved one might like to share with you. Choose music from the Alzheimer’s patient’s era and when you notice that a particular piece is getting a postive response, play it often.
The sense of touch opens up a host of other activities for Alzheimer’s patients. Simple household chores that engage the sense of touch also have the added benefit for giving the patient the chance to be productive and to foster self-worth. For example, in the kitchen you can empower your loved one to: mash potatoes with a fork, peel apples with an apple peeler that attaches to your table, snap beans or peas, or husk the corn. Rolling balls of yarn, buttoning clothes, sorting silverware, and organizing jewelry boxes are other great “chores” for Alzheimer’s patients. There are also sensory boxes, sensory books, activity aprons, and activity pillows that you can purchase or make at home. And remember the doll play I mentioned earlier? Dressing a doll, combing her hair, and holding her are all stimulating touch-based activities for Alzheimer’s patients. If you have a mellow, loving cat or dog who likes to be stroked, such pet therapy is wonderful for Alzheimer’s patients, too.
If your dear one has trouble swallowing or disorders of taste, please avoid these taste-based activities. Eating and swallowing capabilities are individual to the patient and you will want to discuss eating-related changes or activities with your loved one’s physician as appropriate.
If a tasting Alzheimer’s game is o.k. for your love one, I recommend you prepare everything ahead of time. You can play a simple game of “guess that taste” using different flavors of the same types of foods — ice cream, Jell-o, pudding, yogurt, lollipops, and fruit work well for this.
It can also be fun to make favorite foods from your loved one’s childhood or from special occasions in his or her past. Tastes can stimulate memories.
If your loved one enjoys different scents you can use essential oils or perfumes to stimulate this sense. Be sure to discuss this with a physician first, however, as some patients have difficulties with their sense of smell. Other ways to stimulate the sense of smell are to bake favorite foods so the smells waft through the house (try cookies or breads). This call conjure up positive moods and memories.
The scent of clean laundry can also be positive — give your loved one the responsibility of folding clean underwear so he or she can smell the freshly washed clothes.
You can also organize an Alzheimer’s game with different boxes containing different smelly items like crushed garlic, lavender, vinegar, shampoo, scented lotion, etc … and your loved one can try to guess what’s in thebox.
Many families like to use aromatherapy in their homes to help their Alzheimer’s or dementia patients. It’s believed that rosemary and lemon scents are good when used in the morning while lavendar and orange scents work well in the evening. If you like essesntial oils and your loved one enjoys the scents, you can learn more about this topic and start playing with it at home.
It’s usually possible to stimulate vision throughout all the stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Using vision to improve quality of life for your loved one will, however, depend a lot on your loved one’s preferences. Would he or she enjoy an art museum? Or a flea market? Or old photo albums at home? Or would your loved one like to have her make-up done?
Sorting items at home by color is another way to create a visual activity for Alzheimer’s patients. Socks, underwear, napkins, flowers, buttons, even children’s Lego can all be sorted by color. Avoid small objects, of course, if your loved one puts such things in his or her mouth.
Some patients enjoy using glue to place pictures cut out of magazines into thematic, colorful scrap books. Themes can include cats, dogs, flowers, foods, etc.
Some videos available on TV or YouTube can be very relaxing for patients through their use of color or gentle movement. You may consider nature programs, ocean-related programs, etc. or search for videos specifically designed for Alzheimer’s patients.
For more daily support and guidance, there’s MyHealios family behaviorial therapy and psychoeducation. MyHealios provides education as well as techniques to deal with the daily challenges of living with Alzheimer’s.
There are are many books dedicated to activities for Alzheimer’s patients, here are some examples: