For people with dementia, everyday tasks can be challenging. Occupational therapy can help with daily functioning and staying safe.

Occupational therapy for dementia can include practicing specific skills and finding accommodations and aids to help someone function better. Occupational therapists might also educate the caregivers and family members on how to support the person’s functioning.

The primary goal of occupational therapy is to help people with dementia live fuller, longer lives.

Occupational therapy can support people with dementia in learning skills and habits that will assist them with day-to-day tasks.

People with dementia often experience difficulties with:

  • behavior
  • memory
  • thinking
  • language

This can affect their daily functioning, making everyday tasks difficult. For example, people with dementia may have difficulties cooking, cleaning, maintaining personal hygiene, traveling, socializing, working, and participating in hobbies.

Occupational therapy can’t prevent dementia from worsening, nor can it cure the condition. But an occupational therapist may help people with dementia function better.

Occupational therapy for dementia can include:

  • practicing essential basic skills
  • adjusting the home/work environment to make the home safer and easier to navigate
  • identifying accommodations and aids
  • educating caregivers and families on how to support their loved one and what to expect, enabling them to plan for the future

A 2019 review of studies found that occupational therapy tends to improve the symptoms of dementia and the quality of life for people with dementia and their loved ones. Another review of studies concluded that occupational therapy for dementia could help individuals stay independent longer and improve the caregivers’ overall experience.

Occupational therapy works differently for everybody. However, it generally begins with your therapist assessing your limitations and discussing your medical history, abilities, and needs. They’ll speak with you about your challenges and goals for occupational therapy.

From there, your therapist will develop a plan that meets your needs. They can also advise on adjusting your living space to make it safer and easier to navigate.

Then, occupational therapy for dementia typically involves meeting regularly in person to practice various skills. Your therapist may keep assessing your abilities to monitor your progress. You’d usually have to complete exercises or tasks at home, either with or without a caregiver.

Functional goals for people with dementia

Occupational therapy for dementia can include setting and working toward specific goals.

These goals may include:

  • doing tasks (preparing food, dressing, cleaning) unaided
  • living at home for as long as possible
  • staying safe and avoiding injury
  • remaining physically active
  • following your dementia care plan
  • maintaining social relationships

Most types of dementia are progressive, meaning your symptoms worsen over time. In this case, the goal might be to manage these symptoms, helping you function well for as long as possible without compromising your health or safety.

Occupational therapy for dementia depends on an individual’s needs. A therapist will adjust the care plan to suit a person’s stage of dementia, lifestyle, and ability level.

Occupational therapy interventions for dementia can include:

  • working on communication skills to improve social functioning
  • strengthening fine and gross motor skills
  • working on reasoning and cognitive skills
  • creating routines to make daily tasks more manageable
  • finding strategies to help with short-term memory (e.g., visual reminders and alarms)
  • recommending ways to modify tasks to make them easier to complete
  • recommending accommodations (such as stairlifts and rails) to make their home safer to navigate
  • recommending safety strategies (for example, using medical alert systems)
  • educating families and caregivers about the individual’s needs

Most people in the early to middle stages of dementia can benefit from occupational therapy.

As soon as someone notices a change in their function — whether it’s increased forgetfulness or difficulty coping with change — talking with an occupational therapist could be beneficial.

Occupational therapy for late-stage dementia

In the later stages of dementia, individuals are usually entirely or primarily dependent on others to assist them with basic functioning. Occupational therapy for late-stage dementia usually focuses on educating caregivers and family members.

Occupational therapy can help caregivers learn to:

  • move your loved one in a safe and comfortable way
  • avoid and treat bedsores
  • provide enjoyable stimulation
  • gently exercise the limbs
  • choose and use mobility aids and other accommodations

Occupational therapy can help people with dementia improve their basic daily functioning. This can be done through skills training and identifying aids and accommodations that make a person’s life safer, easier, and more pleasant.

Research suggests that occupational therapy can help improve symptoms and the quality of life. It can benefit people with dementia, their caregivers, and their loved ones.

If you think you or a loved one might benefit from occupational therapy for dementia, consider speaking with a doctor or your care team.