Tips for having fun and being active for people living with dementia

Staying active and participating in social activities is not only fundamental to slowing down the development of dementia but also a fun way for families and friends to reconnect.

Many studies have found activities that engage mental and physical stimulation are invaluable for those living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, but it’s also important to consider which activities are most suitable and beneficial for people whose motor and cognitive functions are in decline.

If you find yourself, or someone close to you with dementia, beginning to struggle with the activities they once enjoyed, it’s a good idea to get together and participate as a group, or come up with some other ways to get them excited about being active.

Planning activities

When planning activities for your friend or family member living with dementia, there are a few considerations, including thinking about what it does for them, how you can make them feel most useful and included, whilst also planning activities that keep in mind who they are as a person and what their past or current hobbies and interests are. If they had a sport or game they really enjoyed before they developed dementia, and that they may have stopped doing, consider ways you can get them back into it with the help of other important people in their lives. Participating in activities that were once important can help evoke positive memories and particular feelings, as well as reduce anxiety and encourage emotional connections – and these are only a few of the benefits!

Types of activity

Consider interests like reading, especially if it is reading a familiar book or with family members they know and love; or perhaps a family cleaning day, where small and easy, but also necessary Alzheimers Auckland 2tasks are completed together, such as sweeping, dusting, and folding laundry. Activities like these serve a purpose, but are not too strenuous or complicated for those who might get easily overwhelmed by mental or physical stimulation.

Gardening is a wonderful physical task that can been done by oneself or as a group, and is hugely beneficial as it involves familiar movement as well as bright contrasting colours which stimulate mental activity and are even known to bring back positive memories.

Activities don’t always have to be outside, or even useful to the household or the family – music and dancing can be a fun way to participate in physical activity and stimulate blood flow and a sense of fun and enjoyment. Find old records and CDs or music tracks that they enjoy, and get the family or their friends together to join in. This is a fun, social activity that is good for the soul as well as the mind and body.

Arts and crafts, drawing, and knitting are all kinds of activities that can keep someone with dementia occupied for a sustained period of time, and can also give the carer some time to themselves.

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Things to remember

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, do some research, or seek support from organisations in your community who are able to help. There are plenty of organisations and support groups offering social support and group activities, such as Alzheimers Auckland’s socialisation services. Services like these offer walking groups, golfing groups, cognitive stimulation therapy, art groups, dance groups, reading groups, and more, engaging mental and physical actions and social bonds. Socialisation support groups are also the perfect way to give carers a break.

While it may be hard at times, it’s worth remembering to take a flexible and supportive approach to activities. If the person reacts badly or resists the game or activity, take a rest and try again later. Try asking them what they might like to do or how the activity could be more fun or interesting for them. Most importantly, get creative! People living with dementia or Alzheimer’s are the same people you’ve always known – getting them back into old hobbies and helping them get social again is instrumental to their wellbeing.

With 15,000 people living with dementia in Auckland alone, rates expected to triple in NZ by 2050, and with an even wider group of family and friends who are touched by each case of dementia, more than likely there are people nearby who can help make your journey easier. Remember –  it’s okay to reach out for support, advice, answers, or suggestions.