Staying physically active has many health and well-being benefits for those living with dementia, no matter where they are on their journey or the type of dementia they have. Health benefits include improvements in the health of your heart and blood vessels, better bone strength reduces the risk of osteoporosis, and it reduces the risk of falling by improving balance and strength. There are also significant benefits to mood and mental health well-being as it provides an opportunity to engage with others reducing social isolation, whilst promoting a good night’s sleep. Being flexible and strong can mean that you are able to continue with daily tasks, like getting dressed and going out of the home, improving overall independence for a person with dementia.
Types of suitable activities for people with dementia include:
- Simple household tasks – putting clothes away, organising laundry and making beds
- Walking – is one of the best all round activities for people with dementia. It also combats the restless urge some people experience with dementia to wander. Combine a walk with a useful errand like walking a dog or going to the shop.
- Water aerobics – this is a gentle and relaxing exercise suitable for people with dementia.
- Aerobic exercise – there are dementia friendly aerobic classes in many communities, or you could invest in some light arm weights and resistance bands and enjoy this in the comfort of home. There are lots of exercise videos online that you can use.
- Dancing – whilst not a traditional exercise dancing has the added socialisation benefit and connecting with music can boost mood and promote positive self-esteem.
Reminiscing and life history work can be a powerful way of communicating with a person with dementia. Those living with dementia can continue to access long-term memories even if the short-term memory is impacted by the condition.
Reminiscence activities for people with dementia can provide an opportunity for families and friends to spend quality time together. The person with dementia feels empowered by these dementia friendly activities as they can emotionally connect in a positive way to the past and the life they led. It gives them an opportunity to talk and share something meaningful to them. Talking about happy memories of the past brings much joy, which can help alleviate stress and anxiety sometimes experienced. Families can also enjoy reminiscing as it enables them to find out more about their loved one.
Types of reminiscence activities include:
- Interviewing your loved one to find out about their life, their childhood and their family
- Watch family videos together and talk about family events
- Look through photograph albums
- Make a photograph album on special memories
- Listen to their favourite music and talk about memories associated with certain songs
- Find objects that stimulate positive memories, for example a wedding dress or a piece of jewellery
- Create a scent jar of smells that evoke positive memories, for example stones from a beach
Whether your loved one was a keen and able cook or not, providing an opportunity for them to create a meal or bake a cake can help boost mood and self-esteem. Depending on their ability, choose a recipe that is easy to follow. If they are experienced in the kitchen, help them recreate a dish from their past that evokes positive memories. Always provide the support they need throughout and ensure safety in the kitchen.
Animals have a very positive effect on people living with dementia. The calming nature of most animals can be soothing and can help a person with dementia communicate and articulate themselves better. Pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy involves guided animal interaction to improve a person’s physical, mental or social health. Research has found that people who have pets or interact with pets are generally healthier compared with non-pet owners. It can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce stress hormones and boost levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.
An animal’s unconditional love and acceptance as well as the therapeutic benefits from physical pet contact can improve quality of life for a person living with dementia. Other well-being benefits include:
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Has a calming effect, promoting relaxation
- Pet companionships can reduce depression
- Improves social interaction
- Improves physical activity
- Reduces behaviours that challenge a person living with dementia
Types of pet therapy activities for people living with dementia, include:
- Taking the family pet for a walk
- Take your loved one to an animal sanctuary or local farm
- Research animal-therapy organisations