When you are caring for a loved one with dementia on your own, the days can become physically and emotionally draining. You may feel helpless to see how the disease affects your loved one. You just want them to be safe and comfortable. The first step to making the situation a more positive one is finding the right resource or help.

In this article, we’re going to outline ten ways you can spend time with your loved one that could break up some of the monotony of a normal day. These simple activities can not only be physically helpful to you and your loved one, they can also improve the quality of life for both of you and ease a bit of your burden in the process. Activities can stir memories, lessen anxiety, encourage self-expression and help the person afflicted feel more engaged.

Image of a young woman knitting with her grandmother

Start with things you both have done every day of your life – daily living activities such as cooking, cleaning and things you would do in your free time.

  1. Begin with something central to everyone’s life: food. Prepare a meal or bake something that your loved one will recognize. It’s often easier for one with dementia to recognize something from the past, so pick their favorite meal or dessert. If there is a food prep task they can do, you will have the added bonus of having them feel like they’ve contributed. And since you were likely going to be responsible for the meal anyway, consider this activity a two-for-one deal.
  2. Take your loved one on a date. Studies show that eating with others makes dementia patients feel a sense of belonging. Take the lead on ordering, using your fork and knife and drinking so your loved one can remember how to do those things. Obviously, if your loved one is unable to leave their home, set up a nice table scape at home to create the feel of their favorite restaurant – it will still mean the world to them.
  3. Put your loved one to work – really! You likely have household work to do each day anyway, so why not let your loved one help? Household cleaning chores such as sweeping a floor, doing laundry, wiping off countertops, running the vacuum, painting a room or even unloading the dishwasher are all familiar activities that your loved one could pick up once they see you do them. This activity benefits your to-do list while your loved one could feel satisfaction from being able to accomplish something and perhaps from knowing they were able to help you.
  4. Turn up the music. The old adage about “all work and no play” applies to everyone, so be sure to include activities that you and your loved one might actually do for fun, like singing songs or playing music. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, music can calm agitated patients, lighten their mood and even help with coordination, since the motor center of our brains can respond automatically to sound. You may even get to learn something new about your loved one – music can help jog their memory.
  5. Get crafty. Arts and crafts, such as painting or knitting, can help your loved one relax through expression. Keep it simple and stress free – the goal is to have fun, not win a blue ribbon at the state fair.
  6. Dust off the family videos. Set up your old VCR and spend an afternoon watching homemade video tapes. Be sure to press pause every now and then to explain the scene, such as who is there, when it was, where it took place. Take your time, and be sure to show your own emotions so your loved one feels welcome to express themselves as well.
  7. Solve a puzzle. Puzzles spark engagement and there’s a sense of accomplishment when complete. No fair holding out the last piece, though – that’s only allowed on siblings.
  8. Use your green thumb. An activity to get outdoors, get fresh air and get some exercise is as close as your (or your community’s) garden. Gardening is something that might be even more familiar for your older loved one, and don’t be surprised if they to show you a trick or two. And if there isn’t a garden nearby, visit a local arboretum or botanical garden.
  9. Read together. This activity can be done just about anywhere and helps exercise the brain and engage your loved one. The book can be any kind. Maybe it’s the children’s book your loved one read to your kids. Or it might be books they used to enjoy. It could even be the newspaper. It might not be this blog.
  10. Hit the road. Simply go for walks. Talk about what you see along the way. Ask how they are feeling. At the very least, you will both get exercise. And that’s the idea of these activities – a mental and sometimes physical “health” break from the normal daily routine.

Please share activities that work for you and your loved one in the comments section below.

If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, our nurses at 1.866.KINDRED can help answer care questions you may have about treatment and how to get help. We’re here 24 hours a day, seven days a week to listen.