Memory loss and cognitive decline can make everyday activities, including those for recreation and enjoyment, challenging. However, there are still plenty of activities for people living with dementia to do at home.

Dementia isn’t a singular diagnosis. It’s a collective term for conditions involving memory loss and cognitive decline that cause everyday impairment. It isn’t a part of the natural aging process, either. Dementia is caused by conditions of neurodegeneration that change how your brain functions.

An estimated 55 million people worldwide live with dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common type.

Living with dementia can make everyday tasks significantly more challenging. However, finding activities to engage in, particularly in the comfort of your home, can help stimulate your brain and improve your overall quality of life.

Dementia affects people on a spectrum of severity. As dementia progresses, neurons in your brain continue to degenerate, and your abilities decline.

For example, it may take longer to complete tasks, or you might not be able to hold your focus for long.

Confusion, memory loss, and impaired understanding can interfere with tasks that take a while to plan and complete.

Keeping these things in mind, at-home activities can be customized to meet individual needs. Activities that people can achieve or see results in quickly and that need little advanced planning or concentration can be enjoyable and enriching, even for people who are living with cognitive decline.

At-home activities for people living with dementia that can be done with a caregiver include:

  • listening to or playing music
  • dancing and singing
  • playing cards or board games
  • preparing food together
  • completing a jigsaw puzzle
  • reading a book out loud
  • modeling with clay
  • painting or coloring
  • talking about past experiences
  • watching a show together
  • looking through books or magazines
  • brushing and caring for a pet
  • looking through photographs
  • caring for houseplants
  • doing a mind-body activity, like yoga or tai chi
  • arranging flowers

Group engagement

Sometimes, the more the merrier. Inviting loved ones over often adds a special boost to at-home activities. According to a 2018 study, doing activities in a group can improve engagement and mood for people with dementia.

Socialization can be important to help stave off feelings of loneliness and isolation, but unfamiliar faces can also be disconcerting. Limiting groups to one or two additional loved ones may be the most comfortable.

Adding physical activity

At-home activities for people living with dementia don’t have to be stationary. In fact, adding some physical activity, like dancing to music, could improve overall well-being.

In a 2022 study, people living with dementia indicated physical activity was important to them. Not only was it seen as a positive experience but as meaningful, challenging, and identity-affirming.

You can add a physical element to at-home activities for people living with dementia while still keeping ability levels in mind.

Ideas include:

  • throwing a ball for the dog in the yard
  • walking with a pet in the yard
  • doing a mind-body activity
  • stretching or lifting home weights
  • dancing
  • working on home improvement activities, like painting
  • starting a cleaning or organization project together

There’s no definitive evidence yet that brain training activities have a long lasting effect on cognitive abilities. Keeping your mind active, however, may improve your quality of life overall through experiences that feel meaningful and provide a sense of accomplishment through learning.

Home activities for dementia that may stimulate the brain include:

  • playing games
  • doing puzzles
  • reading and looking at books or magazines
  • writing
  • learning a new skill, like knitting
  • engaging the senses through activities like cooking
  • building with blocks or plastic pipe pieces
  • folding laundry
  • tying and untying knots
  • reminiscing to favorite songs, pictures, or life stories

Dementia can cause someone to be less interested in their usual activities, and encouraging engagement isn’t always easy.

Tips for caregivers offering activities include:

  • Honor the individuality of someone living with dementia: They may not enjoy certain activities.
  • Be realistic about how much can be accomplished: It’s okay to not finish a task or to take extra time to complete it.
  • Be mindful of mood: If someone doesn’t seem to enjoy an activity, moving to something else might be more successful.
  • Realize quiet together time is an activity, too: If the person you’re caring for is experiencing agitation, mood shifts, or doesn’t want to engage, sitting together quietly is an alternative that still provides companionship.
  • Cultivate patience: You can’t suddenly change how someone living with dementia is thinking or behaving. Telling them they “already asked you that,” for example, won’t stop repetitive questions. Building your patience and focusing on kindness can allow you to hold a conversation despite memory lapses or repetition.

How to help engage dementia patients in activities

Familiarity can be a big help when encouraging someone living with dementia to participate in an activity.

If you’re new to the caregiver role, spending time learning about the person and their life can help you find ways to engage them easier. Knowing their favorite music and food, for example, or knowing if they like cats more than dogs, can make activity selection more targeted.

Trust building is also important. Even if you’re a family member, you may seem unfamiliar if you haven’t been visiting often. Being a regular, welcoming, and calm presence might help someone living with dementia be more willing to interact with you.

When in doubt, start an activity on your own and show what a good time you’re having. For example, seeing you doing a puzzle next to them may pave the way for them wanting to join you.

Dementia is a form of memory loss and cognitive decline that can affect how you enjoy and engage in activities.

If you’re a caregiver, home activities for people living with dementia don’t have to be complex. Short, straightforward, or passive experiences can be just as enriching as big projects.