Activities and the person with dementia

Activities are the “things we do,” like getting dressed,doing chores, playing cards — even paying bills. They can be active or passive, done alone or with others. Activities represent who we are and what we're about.A person with dementia will eventually need a caregiver's assistance to organize the day. Planned activities can enhance the person's sense of dignity and self-esteem by giving more purpose and meaning to his or her life.
Activities structure time. They can make the best of a person's abilities, enhance quality of life and facilitate relaxation. Activities can also reduce behavior like wandering or agitation.
Both the person with dementia and the caregiver can enjoy the sense of security and togetherness that activities can provide.

Planning activities
The strategies for activity planning focus on the:

  1. Person
  2. Activity
  3. Approach
  4. Place


Planning activities for the person with dementia is best when you continually explore, experiment and adjust. Consider the person's likes and dislikes;strengths and abilities; and interests. As the disease progresses, keep activities flexible, and be ready to make adjustments.

Keep the person's skills and abilities in mind
He or she may be able to play simple songs learned on the piano years ago. Bring these types of skills into daily activities.

Pay special attention to what the person enjoys
Take note when the person seems happy, anxious, distracted or irritable. Some people enjoy watching sports, while others may be frightened by the fast pace or noise.

Consider whether the person begins activities without direction
Does he or she set the table before dinner or sweep the kitchen floor mid-morning? If so, you may wish to plan these activities as part of the daily routine.

Be aware of physical problems
Does he or she get tired quickly or have difficulty seeing, hearing or performing simple movements? If so, you may want to avoid certain activities.

Focus on enjoyment, not achievement
Find activities that build on remaining skills and talents. A professional artist might become frustrated over the declining quality of work, but an amateur might enjoy a new opportunity for self expression.

Encourage involvement in daily life
Activities that help the individual feel like a valued part of the household — like setting the table, wiping counter tops or emptying wastebaskets — can provide a sense of success and accomplishment.

Relate activity to work life
A former office worker might enjoy activities that involve organizing, like putting coins in a holder, helping to assemble a mailing or making a to-do list.A farmer or gardener may take pleasure in working in the yard.

Look for favorites
The person who always enjoyed drinking coffee and reading the newspaper may still find these activities enjoyable, even if he or she is no longer able to completely understand what the newspaper says.

Change activities as needed
Try to be flexible and acknowledge the person's changing interests and abilities.

Consider time of day
Caregivers may find they have more success with certain activities at specific times of day, such as bathing and dressing in the morning. Keep in mind that your typical daily routine may need to change somewhat.

Adjust activities to disease stages
As the disease progresses, you may want to introduce more repetitive tasks. Be prepared for the person to eventually take a less active role in activities.

Offer support and supervision
You may need to show the person how to perform the activity and provide simple, step-by-step directions.

Concentrate on the process, not the result
Does it matter if the towels are folded properly? Not really. What matters is that you were able to spend time together, and the person feels as if he or she has done something useful.

Be flexible
When the person insists that he or she doesn't want to do something, it may be because he or she can't do it or fears doing it. Don't force it. If the person insists on doing it a different way, let it happen, and change it later if necessary.

Be realistic and relaxed
Don't be concerned about filling every minute of the day with an activity. The person with Alzheimer's needs a balance of activity and rest, and may need more frequent breaks and varied tasks.

Help get the activity started
Most people with dementia still have the energy and desire to do things but may lack the ability to organize, plan, initiate and successfully complete the task.

Break activities into simple, easy-to-follow steps
Focus on one task at a time.Too many directions at once often overwhelm a person with dementia.

Assist with difficult parts of the task
If you're cooking, and the person can't measure the ingredients, finish the measuring and say, “Would you please stir this for me?”

Let the individual know he or she is needed
Ask, “Could you please help me?” Be careful, however, not to place too many demands upon the person.

Make activities safe
Modify a workshop by removing toxic materials and dangerous tools so an activity such as sanding a piece of wood can be safe and enjoyable.

Change your surroundings to encourage activities
Place scrapbooks, photo albums or old magazines in easily accessible spots to help the person reminisce.

Minimize distractions that can frighten or confuse
A person with dementia may not be able to recall familiar sounds and places or may feel uncomfortable in certain settings.

Example of a daily plan


  • Wash, brush teeth, get dressed.
  • Prepare and eat breakfast.
  • Have coffee, make conversation.
  • Discuss the newspaper, try a craft project, reminisce about old photos.
  • Take a break, have some quiet time.
  • Do some chores together.
  • Take a walk, play an active game.


  • Prepare and eat lunch, read mail, wash dishes.
  • Listen to music, do crossword puzzles, watch TV.
  • Do some gardening, take a walk, visit a friend.
  • Take a short break or nap.


  • Prepare and eat dinner, clean up the kitchen.
  • Reminisce over coffee and dessert.
  • Play cards, watch a movie, give a massage.
  • Take a bath, get ready for bed, read a book.