11 purposeful activities to do at home for people with Alzheimer’s

August 5, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak has been a difficult time for all of us. But for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related illness, change is especially confusing.

We’ve seen this with participants in our adult day health program. Many have Alzheimer’s and can’t understand why they aren’t coming to Iona each day like they used to. Instead, some are withdrawing into their private world and falling into depression. A few even refused to leave their beds when the stay-at-home orders first began.

That’s why to help support our families during this crisis, Iona’s adult day health program staff now offer daily activities for current participants and their families to do together over the phone and online. It’s a reason to get up and a way to stay connected.

But this challenge goes well beyond our adult day health center roster. We know that many care partners in our wider community are burning out or running out of creative ideas for how to keep their person engaged and active while at home. Additionally, in the words of Teepa Snow, a leading educator on dementia, “Meaningful days matter to all people. This need does not change for someone who is living with dementia.”

As we’re all experiencing change to our routines and a loss of control, it’s easy to feel like our days are less meaningful. So we asked Wellness & Arts Center Program Coordinator Cecilia Sono to share some of her favorite activities that focus on what people can do, not what they cannot do. In doing so, everyone can have positive new experiences.

11 activities that can help your family member feel valued, productive, and purposeful

  1. Nature appreciation: Take a family walk. If there’s a nice place to stop, you can write a story, a poem, or simply write down observations. On a bad weather day, see if you can take a drive and find a place to park with a nice view.
  2. Helping around the house: No matter the activity you do with your loved one, giving your person a sense of purpose can make a big difference in the success of the activity. This can be as simple as stating, “I’ve made a little mistake and need some help. Will you help me?”Ask your loved one to help with folding laundry or towels, drying dishes, matching socks, etc. These small tasks have many benefits including improved self-esteem and sense of purpose.
  3. Blast from the past: Take an hour or so to pull out old photo albums or family videos. Watch and reminisce together. You might also want to listen or even dance to old favorite songs.
  4. Explore your block: Take a scenic walk around your immediate neighborhood. Take the time to appreciate the place you call home. You may discover interesting things that you never knew existed. Some neighborhoods in DC even have interesting back alleys to explore.
  5. Organizing fun: Pick a room in your house that needs some TLC and involve your person with tasks like organizing CDs, emptying drawers, etc. Take a couple of hours to organize this space.
  6. Plan a family video chat with family and friends: “Zoom” and “Skype” are two popular platforms. For other technology advice, read our blog post here. If you’re new to Zoom, Iona’s Around Town DC program offers regular Zoom 101 Workshops. Visit our Around Town DC website to learn more and see the upcoming schedule of classes.
  7. Spa treatment day: This activity is so versatile. It can be done inside or outside, paired with lemonade or tea, coffee, or hot chocolate—iced or hot—depending on the season. You might choose to play soothing music or even light candles (battery-operated candles work too). And don’t stereotype; all genders can enjoy and benefit from relaxing spa treatment. To get started, all you need is an emery board, polish (can be clear or colored), and some lotion. Provide your loved one with a gentle hand massage using some lotion and file. If desired, you might paint their nails. Other variations of this idea include purchasing or making a DIY face mask or trying a foot bath and pedicure.
  8. Flower arranging: Together or independently, ask your loved one to help create beautiful centerpieces. All you need is an assortment of artificial flowers and a colander with large enough holes that the stems will fit inside. There is a sense of immediate gratification. As you add the flowers, the plain colander transforms into a work of art! You can also arrange flowers with vases, jars, and real flowers.
  9. Scrapbooking fun: Find mementos around your house that are special to you and start scrapbooking. This will be a fun way to preserve all your favorite memories.
  10. Collage making: Cut up magazines or newspapers and make collages. You can choose to respond to a theme or feeling.
  11. Go on a virtual tour: The Google Arts and Culture project has content from more than 2,000 organizations to bring their collections and galleries online.  You can view virtual tours of many of the museums, galleries and sites, and also explore details of their collections as well as cultural and historical contexts through their online “exhibits.”Many Washington, DC museums are offering virtual tours too. Here’s a list of some to check out. 

We hope these ideas will provide a little fun and routine into your daily schedule. One final tip—because routine can be especially important for people with Alzheimer’s, if possible, we encourage you to make a weekly calendar with designated times for these activities (for example, a daily activity at 2:00 PM). You may find that your person even starts to get ready and prepare for the activity before it begins!

If you have other aging or caregiving-related questions, please contact our Helpline at 202-895-9448 or info@iona.org. We’re here to support you.