The Art of Making Activities Fun & Engaging for Adults living with Dementia

We all like to have fun and as we get older our interest change, just like individuals with Dementia. People with Dementia, depending on type and stage can change their interests in a flash. The key to a good activity is to constantly engage with them.

Activities can be stressful due to many unexpected behaviors or reactions that can come from Dementia. I always try to remember, it is not the person, it is the disease. What a person with Dementia needs is someone to be their friend. Someone to laugh with, talk to and even cry on. That is why activities are important for people with Dementia. It keep them stimulated but only if it is engaging.

A few activities I like to add more fun to are BINGO, art, sit & stretch classes and music. You can do it to pretty much any activity. For BINGO, I like to give it a theme. For instance, I recently did a Halloween BINGO where I dressed up in silly glasses and a wig and instead of yelling “BINGO” when they got five in a row, I had them yell “Goblins & Ghouls”. Each time someone yelled that, there were outbursts of laughter. At the end of our few round of BINGO, they told me they had so much fun. Simple things can make a difference. I also like to chat with them during BINGO and make conversation. If someone gets frustrated because they no longer recognize G62 on their card, it is okay. I simply just help them and when I point it out, I say something like “Oh, there it is, I barely found it myself” and tell them good job. WE NEED ENCOURAGEMENT, NO MATTER WHAT STAGE OF LIFE WE ARE IN. It is important.

Another activity I notice more struggle to motivate individuals with Dementia in is, art. Art is can be very therapeutic. The hardest part is getting them to enjoy it and remember how much they love doing it. I always use Matisse and Picasso as my example to motivate and encourage. Matisse and Picasso could look at the same woman and paint very different perspectives. Every artist is different and that is what makes it art. No piece of art is the same just as every artist is different from the next. They make paint in the same style but their perspectives are different. I also tell them there are no mistakes, just opportunities to expand. With this example, my best art successes come from still life painting with them and painting objects. I did a fall themed still life painting activity with pumpkins, a vase and flowers. I had some who focused on the pumpkin, vase and flowers all together. Then I had others who chose to paint just the flower or pumpkin by itself. Some even added grass like they were in a pumpkin patch. The creativity was endless! Encouraging them to be there own artist and take charge no matter their skill levels is key.

In every activity, you can make it more personal. By personal I mean person-centered and not task centered. Knowing the person helps motivate and encourage them. You’re probably thinking “How can you make it person centered in a group activity?”. This is important to understand, you will not make every single participant happy. And…. That is perfectly fine. The key is to be attentive to your participants watch their body language, facial expressions and demeanor. That is when you know to switch gears during your activity, no matter what it is. If they feel overwhlemed or as if they cannot do it, assist them or have them sit with you while you do it and talk with them.

Activities can be turned into learning experiences for you and those participating. They learn to trust you more and you learn more about them as a person. Use each activity as a gateway to open up. Letting them see you relaxed or make a mistake lightens up the mood. At least, in my experience.

Remember, any activity can be engaging you just need to know the person and to remember “It is not the person talking it is the disease”.

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