Activities for People with Alzheimer's and Dementia

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

  • Expert Advice
Published on:
Senior man relaxing on couch listening to music using headphones.

This article provides guidelines and ideas to help you assist your loved one to be more engaged in meaningful activities.

Puzzles, word games, picture books, arts and crafts, music, dancing, gardening, walking, and folding clothes are just some of the many activities that one with Alzheimer’s or dementia can participate. Caregivers enjoy finding a new activity to engage their loved one. And there are many options, but knowing how to engage them in an activity is the bigger question. Especially when the person is stressed, distracted, agitated or sleeps a lot, it can be a struggle to get them going. These scenarios are challenging, but engaging is possible, and can also help to create a distraction from the troublesome behaviors.

Below are some guidelines and ideas to help you assist your loved one be more engaged in a meaningful activity.

First Things First

When you are looking at ways to improve your loved one’s quality of life with activities, consider first his health. Know of any underlying medical conditions and ensure outstanding medical issues are addressed. What are his sleep patterns? Is he in any pain? Is he properly hydrated? Is he at risk for falls? Any of these issues will affect how he responds to any activity, and the healthier he is feeling, the better able he is to engage.

How Are the Surroundings?

His environment is important as well. Be aware of the noise level and the visual cues in the room. Is the environment over or under stimulating? Clutter and noise can impede your ability to engage the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Is the TV on? Turn it off to minimize that distraction. Can you think of other environmental cues that may be a distraction for your loved one?

Now, Get Started

As you think about what kinds of activities, consider first those he is familiar with, or those that at one time provided special meaning for him. Perhaps he once loved to paint but has not done so in months or years. While being able to paint as well as he once did may not be possible, it can be possible to engage and keep him focused on a simplified painting activity he can perform.


  • Keep the activity simple – activities with just 1-2 steps are best.
  • Mistakes will happen – stay calm and ignore them. In the end, they do not matter.
  • Trial and error will be needed.
  • What works for one person with dementia or Alzheimer’s does not necessarily work for another. Pay attention to your loved one’s response, and individualize your approach, and each activity as needed.
  • Evaluate, learn and revise: look back on each interaction and learn and revise your approach as needed.

Some Ideas for Simplifying

Over the course of your loved one’s Alzheimer’s journey, it will be necessary to simplify activities to match his abilities. For instance:

  • A life-long reader may eventually enjoy being read to, and then progress to just looking at the pictures.
  • A love of gardening may go from gardening, to cutting flowers, to weeding, to watering plants, to watching squirrels.
  • A regular round of golf, or a weekly night of bowling may progress to walking only.
  • Playing music or singing may progress to listening to music only.
  • Preparing the evening meal may eventually progress to folding dinner napkins, and can be a very engaging for the one with Alzheimer’s.

Success Is in the Journey

It is a well-worn adage, but perhaps nothing is more important than to approach any activity as a chance to engage and involve your loved one with Alzheimer’s, and hopefully add to his quality of life. The end result—what he paints, or how it looks, matters little. What matters is the doing.

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

Help find a cure

Donate to help end Alzheimer's Disease

I would like to donate

Sign Up for Research Updates and Advice

Receive Alzheimer's Disease updates and inspiring stories