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  • Writer's pictureAdaptive Clothing Australia

5 Activities for Seniors with Dementia -Backed by Research

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

senior lady with a dog

Discover meaningful and engaging activities for seniors with dementia that not only stimulate the mind but also foster emotional well-being.

Whether you're a caregiver, a family member, or someone looking for activity ideas, this blog offers a comprehensive guide to therapies and fun activities that make a difference.

These activities cater to the unique needs of seniors with dementia, promoting mental and emotional well-being while offering opportunities for meaningful engagement and connection.

Gardening Therapy

Gardening therapy offers a holistic approach to activities for seniors with dementia.

It addresses their physical, emotional, and cognitive needs while creating an enjoyable and meaningful experience that enhances their quality of life.

A systematic review of 17 studies suggests that gardening may be beneficial for dementia patients in long-term care settings.

The research indicates that spending time in gardens is linked to decreased levels of agitation among these residents.

Here are the benefits of Gardening Therapy for those facing dementia:

Sensory Stimulation

Engaging with various plants, soil, and even bird watching allows for a rich sensory experience.

This stimulating activity helps awaken memories and evoke positive emotions all while spending time in the fresh air.

Connection to Nature in the garden or local park

Often done in a local park or community garden, the direct interaction with nature has a calming effect.

This is a fun activity that simultaneously battles stress and boosts general well-being.

Sense of Purpose

Gardening can generate great ideas for bringing purpose into the lives of seniors.

They can witness the tangible results of their efforts, whether they are planting herbs or arranging a floral centerpiece, heightening self-esteem and feelings of utility.

Physical Activity

The act of digging, planting, and weeding in the fresh air provides a gentle yet effective form of physical activity.

This helps improve mobility and keeps the body active, contributing positively to overall physical health.

Stress Reduction

Simply spending time in the midst of greenery can lower stress hormones like cortisol.

The resulting reduction in stress levels further combats cognitive decline and enhances both mood and cognitive functions.

Social Interaction

Gardening often encourages socialisation, making it a communal experience with caregivers, family, or other green-thumbed enthusiasts.

This social engagement is crucial for deterring feelings of isolation and sustaining cognitive capabilities.

Routine and Predictability

Establishing a regular gardening schedule can inject a much-needed sense of routine into the lives of dementia patients. This predictability provides emotional stability and comfort.

Therapeutic Benefits

The nurturing aspect of gardening promotes relaxation and decreases agitation. It serves as a positive avenue for self-expression and creativity.

Memory Stimulation

Regular engagement in gardening tasks can actually help improve memory.

Though explicit memories might be elusive, the procedural memory needed for tending to plants tends to remain, adding another layer to the list of stimulating activities beneficial for those with dementia.

Each of the above activities contributes uniquely to enhancing the quality of life for individuals living with dementia, fostering emotional connections, reducing stress, and maintaining cognitive abilities.

Engaging in activities tailored to individuals with dementia can provide significant benefits for their well-being.

Tip: Make gardening accessible, even in a small space

Raised planter boxes are a versatile and accessible way to garden.

These convenient setups are perfect for patios, balconies, or compact yards. Elevated off the ground, they are easier to reach, reducing the need for strenuous bending or kneeling.

This makes them particularly beneficial for seniors, who may struggle with mobility challenges. Additionally, the raised design often keeps plants safer from ground-dwelling pests.

So, even if you have limited space or physical constraints, don't let that keep you or your loved ones from the therapeutic joys of gardening. With a raised planter box, everyone can have their own slice of nature to nurture.


Board Games

pieces on a chess board

Research shows that playing a board game can be really good for people with dementia.

Playing these games helps to keep the brain and memory active, improves speaking skills, and even helps with social interaction.

Activity ideas like checkers can boost thinking, while others like Poker can help improve memory and social skills.

The study also found that these games make it easier for people with dementia to connect with others, which is great for their social life. Plus, handling game pieces can improve hand-eye coordination.

Overall, board games offer a fun and interactive way to help improve various skills in people with dementia.

Improves Memory

Board games often require players to remember rules, strategies, or specific pieces of information, which can be especially helpful for people with dementia who struggle with memory issues.

Enhances Language Skills

The communication that occurs during board games can help improve language and expression. This is vital for dementia patients, who may face declining language skills.

Cultivates Social Interaction

Board games are generally multiplayer and require face-to-face interaction. This encourages social engagement, helping dementia patients who may otherwise be isolated or struggle with social cues.

Develops Reasoning Abilities

Games like checkers and Chinese GO require logical thinking and strategy, which can keep the reasoning parts of the brain active in dementia patients.

Boosts Hand-Eye Coordination

Games like Abacus demand good hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, making them a practical way to keep these abilities sharp in people with dementia.

Enhances Emotional Control

The social aspects of board games can also help cultivate emotional regulation, as players must interact respectfully and cope with wins or losses.

Increases Physical Activity

While not as intensive as other forms of exercise, interacting with tangible props in board games can provide mild physical activity, improving hand flexibility and touch sensitivity.

Keeps Brain Cells Active

Games like checkers keep the brain engaged, requiring players to think, strategize, and make decisions, thus keeping brain cells active.

Facilitates Communication

The need to discuss strategies or simply chat during a game can make it easier for dementia patients to communicate, helping them to maintain or even improve their social skills.

Improves Quality of Life

Overall, the varied benefits from playing board games contribute to an improved quality of life, offering both cognitive and social stimulation for people with dementia.

Examples of board games for dementia

  • Checkers: Simple rules and encourages strategic thinking, making it easy to engage.

  • Memory Match: Specifically designed to work on memory skills, essential for those with dementia.

  • Bingo: Socially engaging and simple to understand, making it ideal for group settings.

  • Scrabble: Helps with both language skills and cognitive development, important for maintaining brain health.

  • Dominoes: A game that combines simple rules with opportunities for strategy, assisting with number recognition and memory.

Each of these games offers a unique set of cognitive and social benefits, making them suitable options for people with dementia.

old man with dog

Pet Therapy for Older Adults

A review of 32 studies showed that pet therapy, mostly using dogs, is good for people with dementia.

It helps to calm them down, makes them more social, and can improve their mood. It also has positive effects on their overall well-being, physical activity, and eating habits.

Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, is a beneficial activity for individuals with dementia due to the following reasons:

Emotional Connection

Animals provide unconditional love and companionship, creating emotional bonds that can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation commonly experienced by individuals with dementia.

Reduced Agitation

Interacting with animals has been shown to reduce agitation and anxiety in dementia patients.

The soothing presence of a pet can help calm restless behavior and promote relaxation.

Stimulation of Positive Emotions

Pets evoke positive emotions and memories.

Spending time with animals can trigger pleasant memories and feelings, enhancing the individual's overall mood and sense of well-being.

Non-Verbal Communication

Communication can be challenging for individuals with advanced dementia.

Pets offer a form of non-verbal communication that transcends language barriers, fostering a sense of connection and understanding.

Physical Interaction

Activities like petting, grooming, or simply being close to an animal involve physical touch.

This tactile stimulation can help stimulate sensory perception and promote sensory integration.

Routine and Structure

Caring for a pet introduces a sense of routine and responsibility.

Establishing a regular schedule for feeding, walking, and interacting with the pet can contribute to a structured daily routine, which can be comforting for dementia patients.

Encouragement of Social Interaction

Pets often serve as conversation starters and social connectors.

Interacting with a pet can prompt engagement and communication with caregivers, family members, or fellow residents in a care setting.

Engagement and Distraction

Animals provide a source of engagement and distraction from challenging symptoms of dementia.

Focusing on caring for a pet can divert attention away from negative thoughts and behaviors.

Physical Benefits

The act of petting or stroking an animal can release endorphins, promoting relaxation and potentially reducing pain perception.

Sense of Purpose

Caring for a pet gives individuals a sense of purpose and responsibility, fostering self-esteem and a feeling of contributing positively to another living being's well-being.

NOTE: While pet therapy offers numerous benefits, it's important to note that the suitability of this activity depends on the individual's preferences, comfort level with animals, and any potential allergies or sensitivities.

Please consult with healthcare professionals and consider the person's specific needs before introducing pet therapy as an activity.

old lady painting

Art Therapy

Art therapy is one of the creative activities that offers a holistic approach to improving the quality of life for individuals with dementia.

By providing a creative outlet, promoting emotional well-being, and fostering connections, it contributes to a more fulfilling and enriching experience for those living with this condition.

A systematic review covering research from 2015 to 2020 evaluated the efficacy of art therapy for people with dementia.

The study examined 17 research projects involving 853 participants and focused on four key outcomes: wellbeing, quality of life, biological and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), and cognitive function.

The review found that art therapy had a positive impact in 88% of the studies, with 17% showing significant benefits across quality of life, wellbeing, and BPSD.

The study concludes that art therapy not only benefits people with dementia but also enhances communication between patients and caregivers, particularly when the activities are 'in the moment' and person-centered.

Benefits of art therapy for older adults with dementia include:

Non-Verbal Communication

Art therapy provides an alternative way for individuals to express themselves, communicate emotions, and engage with others without relying solely on words.

Creating art can serve as a means to express emotions that might be challenging to articulate verbally. This can help reduce feelings of frustration or agitation that are common among people with dementia.

Stimulation of Memories

Engaging in art can trigger memories and associations from the past.

The act of creating art may bring back memories related to the process itself, the subject matter, or the techniques used.

Sensory Stimulation

The tactile experience of manipulating art materials—such as clay, paint, or markers—can provide sensory stimulation that engages multiple senses and may improve hand eye coordination.

Boosting Self-Esteem

Completing an art project can foster a sense of accomplishment and boost self-esteem.

This positive feeling can have lasting effects on the individual's mood and overall well-being.

Mindfulness and Relaxation

The process of creating art can be meditative and relaxing, helping to reduce anxiety and stress.

This is especially important for individuals with dementia who may experience heightened levels of anxiety.

Social Interaction

Participating in art therapy in a group setting can promote social interaction and a sense of community.

Sharing creative experiences can foster connections and positive relationships among participants.

Preserving Identity

Engaging in artistic activities can help individuals maintain a sense of identity and individuality. It allows them to continue expressing their preferences, style, and creativity.

Cognitive Stimulation

Art activities require decision-making, problem-solving, and planning—all of which provide cognitive stimulation. Engaging in these activities can help maintain cognitive function and slow cognitive decline.

Family and Caregiver Engagement with Senior Activities

Art therapy can be a meaningful way for family members and caregivers to connect with their loved ones with dementia.

Participating in creative activities together can create positive and enjoyable shared experiences.

old lady with headphones listening to music

Music Therapy

Incorporating music therapy into the care plan of someone with dementia can create moments of connection, improve mood, and contribute to their overall well-being.

It's a powerful tool that taps into the enduring relationship between music and memory.

A study in Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders found that a specific form of music therapy improved social engagement among dementia patients and lowered caregiver distress.

Here's why Music Therapy is uniquely advantageous for those with dementia:

Emotional Connection

Listening to cherished songs can help older adults reconnect with their life stories, making this more than just a fun activity but an emotionally enriching experience.

Reduced Agitation

A session of music therapy can act as a relaxing activity, diminishing feelings of anxiety and restlessness. It's a wonderful way to create a calm atmosphere, helping to reduce stress.

Enhanced Communication

When words fail, music steps in. For those with limited verbal skills, humming or tapping to a rhythm can offer a fantastic way to communicate with family members and caregivers.

Stimulation of Memory

The power of music to revive long-held memories turns it into an important mental stimulation tool, even for those in advanced stages of dementia.

Engagement and Participation

Be it playing games like musical chairs, or actually playing musical instruments, active participation is encouraged. These are not just fun activities, but meaningful ways to spend time.

Social Interaction

Group music sessions can take place in community centers, offering older adults an opportunity for social interaction, helping them stay connected with a community.

Physical Benefits

Dancing or even simple chair exercises set to music can keep older adults physically active, improving their motor skills and physical abilities.

Quality of Life

Incorporating this into the daily routine adds to the health benefits, enhancing the quality of life by providing moments of joy.

Non-Pharmacological Approach

Unlike some other forms of treatments, Music Therapy offers a drug-free method to address emotional and behavioral challenges, offering a holistic approach to mental health.


Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes only. We are not medical professionals and the information should not be considered as professional medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for medical advice and treatment.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Some of the links in this blog are affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through these links. We recommend products and services because we believe they are of value to our readers, not because of the commissions we may earn.

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