8 Dementia Activities Targeted toward Unique Interests

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Finding activities for people with dementia can be challenging. For example, my dad’s dementia was caused by failed surgery during his 70s. He was always interested in archaeology, science of any type, space exploration and a variety of human cultures. I focused his activities on those things he loved. The music of his youth was another priceless tool to help him get through the days. What activities or topic of interest would work for your loved one?

Memory Box

For a farmer who loved John Deere tractors, find a realistic toy tractor. Add a clear bag of wheat or oats if he farmed grain. Add his fishing cap. For a woman who did needle work quilting or knitting, put in examples of her craft. Add textured fabric from past clothing. For either, add photos from their 20s, old party invitations, church bulletins, or other memorabilia that they may have saved.

The Number Cruncher

Large keyed calculators, old paper spread sheets, notebooks with lines and headings that remind him or her of employment or keeping home records can work. Watch for frustration. If people enjoy these items, provide them. Dad loved legal pads. He had piles of them. But, if frustration develops, this may be the wrong stage for such items so distract them with something pleasant and make the frustrating items disappear.


Some people are in a position to enjoy the companionship of a pet, but others can no longer do so. However, a pet lover can benefit from time with an animal friend. Some of my dad’s biggest smiles came when someone else’s visiting dog would jump In Dad’s lap. Animals usually sense the welcome. Be sure that you know the animal. One that is skittish is not a good choice.

Plant Lovers

Hearty plants in your loved ones’ home or in their rooms are a must. Help plant lovers water the plants if they are able – even re-pot them if that is something they enjoy. Buy some gardening books with lots of pictures to keep nearby. If the person can go outside, container gardening is wonderfully therapeutic.

Music lovers

CDs as well as DVDs of old shows are also wonderful. Watch them with your loved one. It’s always more fun to share these times. If the person was a musician, see if they still want to play their instrument. My mother-in-law wouldn’t touch the piano at home, but nursing home staff got her playing again. She was able to enjoy that for over a year. A guitar or other instrument could bring pleasure if it just sits in the room.

The New Craze

Adult coloring books are being used for self-therapy by people of all ages. They are easy to find in stores and online. Either colored pencils or crayons can work. This will only be helpful for someone who still has good sight and dexterity, but for some it could make a huge difference in the feeling of creating a thing of beauty.

For Later Stages

Textured or “fiddle” squares of all types, homemade or purchased, can be a godsend. Something with varying textures, like a fur square. a silk square, a wool square, a large button or two, some coarse fringe and other textures works well. People with later dementia often have busy fingers and something tactile is much more satisfying than shredding facial tissue and healthier than picking scabs.

For All Stages

Many people love stuffed animals. Be aware that some elders, especially in early stages, will find such a gift childish and demeaning. However, in later stages, many people become attached to sweet, soft stuffed animals. Of course, realistic baby dolls are also popular for many, especially women. It brings them back to early motherhood and they love holding them.

The Takeaway

As with all dementia care, the key is to know your elder. Prior interests, the stage of the disease, even the type of dementia can make a difference in what they enjoy. Rarely would music be a mistake, but my uncle hated it. Rarely would stuffed animals be a mistake but my mom felt they diminished her. Experiment carefully, watch for frustration. Observe carefully to see when cognitive abilities are changing in case some object has become a hazard. As with all caregiving, be creative and ready to change on a dime.