Finding Activities for Loved One During Critical Times Issue #4 of 10

A COVID-19 resource for caregivers

Issue #4 of 10

The James L. West Center for Dementia Care has launched a Tool Kit for lay and professional caregivers who are providing support to persons with dementia during this critical time. To receive ongoing information, contact

How can we engage people living with dementia in a meaningful and successful way? Getting them involved and engaged is more than just providing leisure time or even keeping them occupied; we should choose activities that provide purpose and improve their overall well-being. But to achieve this, we need to learn and focus on what abilities our loved ones still have. Although dementia changes many things for a person, it doesn’t change everything, and often there is still much ability they can use in an enjoyable way.

After identifying the abilities of your loved one, which may fluctuate from day-to-day, try customizing activities to those abilities that also stimulate their interests. For example, a wife, mother and homemaker of 50 years in the middle stages of dementia may not be able to plan, prepare and execute a family meal like she once could, but she can make decisions on what to serve, combine premeasured ingredients, stir a sauce and set the table. Matching your loved one’s abilities to an activity of interest helps them to be successful and feel more independent.

Tips for Success:

The following tips will help you provide a positive experience and enjoyable activities for your loved one throughout the different stages of dementia:

  •  Setting up the Activity – Prepare the environment for them to be successful.
    The physical ability to do an activity is not what is missing; it’s the memory of how to do it. So be ready to jump in and offer help or more direction when needed.
  •  Use Visual Cues – Visual cues are easiest for them to process. If they can see it
    done, they can usually do it.
  • Draw from Their Past and Personal Interests – Activities relating to former life experiences and fond memories provide your loved one with a sense of purpose.
  •  Go with the Flow – Plan on brief and simplified activities. Patience, flexibility and the ability to make adjustments are key.
  • Relaxation at the Forefront – Recharging our batteries is important, but relaxing is not just about napping; it’s about spiritual wellness and reducing stress/anxiety – activities such as going for a walk, being in nature or meditating.
  •  Customize Your Approach – Every person is unique, and you will have to tailor your approach to your loved one based on their stage of dementia. What worked this morning may not work this evening.

Tips for Success:

  •  Pets – People love pets! Taking care of a pet and petting, watching or playing with animals are all therapeutic ways to engage a person living with dementia.
  • Reminiscing – Talking about and looking at familiar props, memories, past activities and events brings peace and value to a person’s life.
  •  Socializing – Being a part of the community helps them feel a sense of belonging. While we are all practicing social distancing – encourage socializing through virtual ways like FaceTime, sending pics over text, or Skype. Even the more “old fashion” forms of staying connected like writing letters is engaging.
  • Art – Art is another way we can express ourselves, and those living dementia may be more successful at communicating through art. Art activities can include modeling clay, coloring, observing art, painting with watercolors and more.
  • Music – Music is an extremely powerful tool and one of the best ways to connect with those living with dementia. Music can be used to energize, reminisce or create a restful or relaxing environment for your loved one.

James L. West knows the many positive effects stimulating activities has for people living with dementia. Need to see it to believe it? You can watch the miraculous effects of music, one of the most transformative and powerful activities listed above, in the documentary “Alive Inside.”

The West Center presents this information with the support of the following organizations:

Dementia Friendly Fort Worth – Alzheimer’s Association – Tarrant Churches Together – Area Agency on Aging/United Way

Looking for more coronavirus and dementia caregiving-related readings? Check out our dementia care blog, featuring articles like Music as Medicine: How Music Can Help During Critical Times, and sign up for our e-newsletter to receive additional resources and COVID-19 updates