Creative, meaningful activities for someone living with dementia

What brings enjoyment and happiness to your day? Perhaps your idea of a fulfilling day is making something with your hands, going on an outing, helping others or spending time with friends and family. For our own well-being we need to have a sense of purpose and joy, to feel useful, to have a day of meaningful experiences. These needs don’t change with a dementia diagnosis, but are often challenged when a person experiences difficulty expressing themselves verbally, short-term memory loss, or trouble initiating and completing an activity.

As a care partner it can seem like a daunting task creating meaningful activities for a person living with dementia. Since senior centers and adult day programs are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus, isolation, boredom and loneliness can be experienced by all of us and especially for someone living with dementia.

Creating meaningful activities that are both stimulating, fun and purposeful can help slow the decline of dementia, provide structure to the day and help elevate mood and quality of life. Often dementia behaviors such as agitation, anger and pacing can be minimized with the use of meaningful activities.

When selecting activities, they should be adapted to your partner’s abilities and interests. Here are some ways to help your loved one stay more active and engaged through the day:

Reminisce. Reminiscing is a wonderful way to boost confidence and brighten someone’s day. Talking about past accomplishments and activities can trigger many happy memories and combat loneliness. Dig out some old photos, old records, a cookbook, nick-knacks – the list is endless. You may learn some new things about your partner too.

Music and dance. “Music is food for the soul.” It’s amazing how one little song can lift our spirits and make you feel better. There is music to fit everyone’s preference. Discover which songs are the favorites and repeat those often. Songs from a person’s childhood and young adult years are often the most powerful.

Moving to music is great fun for everyone. You can even move sitting down by swaying, rocking, clapping your hands, swinging your arms or tapping your feet.

Play a game. Board and card games stimulate the brain, improve motor skills and are just plain fun. Dominoes, UNO, checkers, Old Maid are all games with simple rules to follow. They are also adult in nature. If the game is getting too complicated, just make up your own rules. Card games can be simplified by just sorting the cards by suit. The main idea is to interact and enjoy being together.

Cooking. Preparing a meal together can be very rewarding. Look through a cookbook and select a new recipe to try. Make a grocery list together. Perhaps your partner is only able to stir the ingredients or watch you cook. You can always ask for their advice and talk about favorite recipes and family dinners. Create a family cookbook with favorite family recipes along with a photo of the great cook. This homemade cookbook will be treasured for years to come.

Creative arts. Creativity is important at any age, and especially when we get older. Doing an art activity can bring joy and provide new ways to fill the day. There are many craft kits that are inexpensive and easy to assemble. Dry autumn leaves between the pages of a book, then use them to decorate a card or add to a fall scene. Make stationary or your own wrapping paper by slicing apples in half, applying paint, and using them to make prints. Stamp and color cards to send to friends and family. Explore art from another country.

There are so many ways that people living with dementia can continue to live a meaningful life. We hope these ideas will bring joy and well-being to you and your loved one.

Janice Downing is an Educational Specialist with Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska (ARA). ARA offers free weekly programs to engage people living with dementia. For information about these programs and to learn more about dementia care, contact Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska at or 1-800-478-1080.