Everyday activities can become too difficult for older adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia. That’s why failure-free activities for people with dementia are so important – they always come out “right” no matter what. Being happily engaged in a satisfying activity reduces agitation, anxiety, depression, and anger. It may even reduce sun-downing behavior or the need for medication.
To keep your older adult feeling good, 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! Keep in mind that each person is different, so it might take some trial and error to find activities that appeal to them. As always, 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 small pieces or string.
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 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, 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 or 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. 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.
9. 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. Seniors will enjoy turning the layers and creating different color combinations on each face
10. Pattern blocks and boards- These fun shapes can be used a variety of ways. Seniors can use the included boards to create colorful pictures, make free form shapes, or trace the shapes on paper.