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Activities for dementia

Keeping an active social life is key to helping someone with dementia feel happy and motivated.

There are clubs and activities designed to help people in the same situation, which can be rewarding for both the person with dementia and their families and carers.

Everyone needs a sense of purpose and to enjoy themselves during the day. Encouraging someone with dementia to do something creative, some gentle exercise, or take part in an activity helps them to realise their potential, which improves their self-esteem and reduces loneliness. People with the early stages of dementia may enjoy walking, attending gym classes for older people, or meeting up with understanding and supportive friends. Read about how to raise self-esteem.

If you care for someone who has dementia, a shared activity can also give you a chance to do something that makes both of you happier and able to enjoy quality time together.

Multisensory activities can help dementia

If the person you care for has become very withdrawn, you may want to explore different ways of connecting with them. The Alzheimer's Society has more advice on how people with dementia can keep active and stay involved, by gardening, baking, doing puzzles and more. There are also ideas for remembering the past in a happy way, such as visiting a favourite place or putting together a memory box.

A multisensory approach to interacting is particularly important when someone has advanced dementia. This is because bright colours, interesting sounds and tactile objects can all catch their attention in a way that other activities, such as making conversation or reading, may not any more.

The website Elderly Activities has suggestions for games involving touch and smell, as well as memory exercises.

Sensory gardens

A growing number of care homes now offer a sensory garden for residents to spend time in. They are usually wheelchair-friendly and with carefully chosen plants and flowers to attract local wildlife. A sensory garden is a garden or other plot designed to provide visitors with different sensory experiences. For example, a sensory garden may feature: 

  • scented and edible plants
  • sculptures and sculpted handrails
  • water features that residents can hear and touch
  • textured touch-pads
  • magnifying glass screens
  • Braille and audio induction loop descriptions

Sensory gardens can benefit older adults by encouraging them to spend more time outside. Their design and layout aim to provide a stimulating journey through the senses, heightening a person's awareness of what's around them.

Getting out and about

If you'd like to venture further from home, but are worried about managing the person with dementia's needs, there are organisations that can support you both. Dementia Adventure offers outings and short breaks, such as barge sailing and woodland walks, designed for people living with dementia and their carers to enjoy together.

Memory cafes

A good way to meet other people with dementia and their carers is to find a "memory cafe" near you. Memory cafes offer an informal setting for people who are affected by memory problems and their carers to get support and advice.

Memory cafes operate on a drop-in basis, giving people the chance to exchange experiences and information, and receive practical and emotional support. Some memory cafes offer activities, as well as advice and refreshments.

The cafes are run by trained volunteers with the support of health professionals, and usually meet monthly for a couple of hours, although some meet fortnightly. Memory cafes are different from a "memory clinic", which is an NHS dementia service that involves assessing and diagnosing the condition, and requires a referral from a GP or hospital.

Find a memory cafe near you.

'Singing for the brain'

Singing groups offer people with dementia and their carers a chance to sing and socialise with other people in the same situation.

The Alzheimer's Society runs Singing for the Brain groups around the country. Singing has been shown to improve the quality of life of people with dementia. Many people with dementia and their carers have said that it helps them feel better.

Chreanne Montgomery-Smith, of the Alzheimer's Society, helped devise Singing for the Brain sessions in 2003 after noticing how some people with dementia in a nursing home responded to singing.

Chreanne explains: "I started doing a range of activities in the nursing home. One of them was a quiz game, which involved playing familiar tunes. The first week I did it nobody sang, and the second week a few people joined in. By the third week, everybody was singing.

"One lady sang so much - she knew every song in the quiz, and remembered and sang them all. She felt very proud. And she was somebody who didn't know her own name. It made me realise that people with dementia have a special ability to remember songs. It seemed to me a way of giving people confidence."

There are now around 200 Singing for the Brain groups across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are free and open to anyone who has been diagnosed with dementia.

Each session starts with warm-up exercises, which include physical movements. This might be rolling a small bean bag up one leg, passing it to your other hand and rolling it down the other, or clapping along to a song. All kinds of songs are used, and there are percussion instruments, such as drums, that people can play.

"It seemed to me a way of giving people confidence," Chreanne Montgomery-Smith, co-founder of Singing for the Brain

Finding a dementia singing group

Singing for the Brain sessions take place in community buildings, such as church halls. To find a group near you, call the Alzheimer's Society on 0300 222 1122. If there is no Singing for the Brain session in your area, you can ask your GP, local authority or charities such as Age UK whether they know of any local singing groups.

"Singing for the Brain is mainly about engaging people and helping them to feel that life is worthwhile," says Chreanne. "I think the benefits are in confidence, self-esteem and friendship. Even if people with dementia can't talk, they may be able to sing, whistle, clap or tap their feet. You can always sing at home. Sing along to a CD, or to hymns or other songs on the telly."

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices