Dementia Support

Activities to do when visiting someone who has dementia

April 12, 2022

Visiting someone with dementia can be a challenge, particularly if just sitting and talking with them is difficult because of memory or communication problems. So, what can you do to make your visit more enjoyable? Consider doing a dementia-friendly activity alongside them.

A dementia-friendly activity is one that’s failure-free. The point of the activity isn’t to “get it right” (which can be frustrating for someone with dementia), it’s to feel good about doing it. The key is to pick activities that match their current abilities and reinforce their self-esteem while relieving frustration and boredom.

Whether you visit someone in their own home or in memory care, here are some ways you can use dementia-friendly activities to help your time together go more smoothly.

Use activities to stimulate conversation

Memory care units have a variety of activity supplies on hand that you may be able to borrow, such as short stories and binders of trivia. Both can be used to encourage conversation and reminiscing. For instance, a piece of trivia or part of a story might prompt you to say something like, “Hey, I remember when you used to bake me a pumpkin pie. That was my favourite thing about Thanksgiving.”

Photo albums are another great conversation starter. Maybe the person you’re visiting has an album with lots of vacation pictures. You can say things like, “Oh, you went on a cruise. Did you ever get seasick? What was your favourite part? Did you like the water? the sand?”

You might also want to consider putting together a personal memory box, one that contains items of interest to them. That way during your next visit you can use items in the box to prompt conversations that can lead to the re-living of memories.

Keep in mind: just because the person you’re visiting may not be able to tell you things in chronological order doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the memories that you share with them.

If you still don’t know what to do during a visit, drop in and have a meal with the person. Many memory care units have pay-as-you-go options for visitors. Sit at their regular table. Socialize with the people they’re socializing with. Use the meal as a topic of conversation.

Photo collage
Maybe the person you’re visiting has an album with lots of vacation pictures.

Activities don’t have to generate conversation

Of course, it’s perfectly okay to spend time doing something with them without any words passing between you. 

If you’re visiting them in a senior living community, see whether you can borrow items from the community’s recreation programs. For instance, getting access to materials from the gardening program may allow the two of you to contentedly transplant and deadhead various plants together.

Some people with advanced dementia have a tendency to fidget a lot. Rather than try to get them to stop – a tactic that will likely only cause both of you a lot of grief – try giving them something to fidget with. For instance, if you’re visiting someone who was a knitter, giving them a ball of yarn to wind and unwind can have a calming effect while you spend time together.

Don’t be afraid to bring children with you

If you have children, you might be hesitant to bring them along for a visit. But they can actually be the easiest topic of conversation. Anyone who’s been a parent, even if they have dementia, will likely remember what it’s like to care for children. Their parenting instincts tend to click in. 

They can do activities with the kids like colouring or crafts. They can have tea and cookies with them. Or they can just watch them play. It makes the visit easier. And if it’s their grandkids or other relatives, it brings the family together. 

Other dementia-friendly activities

The types of activities you choose will have a lot to do with the person’s current abilities. For more ideas, check out this article by the Alzheimer Society

More advice

Every day at Tea and Toast, we help families in the Ottawa area who are trying to cope with dementia. For more practical advice, drop us a line or give us a call.

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