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Mind-Stimulating Activities for Individuals with Dementia

Recommendations given in the 2011 World Alzheimer’s Report suggest that routinely providing individualized cognitive stimulation to those with mild to moderate stages of dementia can produce short-term improvements and/or reduce decline in cognitive function.

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The signs were subtle at first. A face she couldn’t place. A word she couldn’t remember. An appointment she forgot. Fortunately, your mom noticed these signs of memory loss early and decided to seek medical attention right away. The diagnosis: a mild stage of dementia. Her doctor has prescribed medication, but is there is anything else you can suggest she do?

The answer is yes! Research has shown that cognitive stimulation helps to slow the progression of dementia in the early stages. Read on to discover great ways to encourage Mom to be proactive in looking to potentially minimize her symptoms and improve the quality of her life.

Proven Benefits of Cognitive Stimulation in People with Dementia

A Cochrane Library study review included 15 trials with a total of 718 participants in the mild to moderate stages of dementia. Cognitive stimulation activities included:

Discussion of past and present events and topics of interest,

  • Word games,
  • Puzzles,
  • Music, and
  • Practical activities such as baking or indoor gardening.

These activities were typically carried out for about 45 minutes at least twice a week.

The findings revealed "a clear, consistent benefit on cognitive function was associated with cognitive stimulation (standardized mean difference (SMD) 0.41, 95% CI 0.25 to 0.57)." The benefit remained evident one to three months after the end of the treatment.

Overall, participants who received cognitive stimulation also reported improved quality of life and they were able to communicate and interact better than previously.

These findings support the recommendations given in the 2011 World Alzheimer's Report, which suggests that routinely providing individualized cognitive stimulation to those with mild to moderate stages of dementia can produce short-term improvements and/or reduce decline in cognitive function.

In addition to improving cognitive function in individuals with dementia, trial results from non-pharmacological interventions revealed improved functional status, quality of life, psychological well-being and social participation.

Mind-Stimulating Activities for Dementia Patients

Activities that provide cognitive stimulation ideally target both an individual’s mental and social functioning. Cognitive stimulation can be administered either in a group setting, such as that of a skilled care home or residential care setting, or it can be provided individually by a professional or family caregiver and tailored to the individual's specific interests and abilities.

Consider suggesting a variety of activities in the following categories:

  • Thinking – puzzles, games, reading
  • Physical – walking, arm and leg exercises, dancing
  • Social – visiting with family and friends, senior center activities
  • Chores – folding the laundry, setting the table, feeding the pets
  • Creative – arts and crafts projects, painting, playing music or singing
  • Daily living – taking a shower, brushing teeth, eating, getting dressed

Reminiscence therapy is another type of cognitive stimulation that can help improve the quality of life for an individual with dementia. Reminiscence activities may include:

  • Looking through photo albums
  • Creating a scrapbook
  • Telling "I remember when" stories
  • Re-reading saved letters and greeting cards
  • Listening to music
  • Baking, and making and eating a special family recipe together offers a wealth of additional ideas for ways that individuals with dementia can benefit from memory-related activities. Visit the Capturing Memories page for tips to stimulate meaningful conversation, activity ideas that use the senses to evoke memories, and more.

If an individual with dementia does not currently have a family member or any other way to coordinate activities that promote cognitive functioning, in-home services from a home care provider such as Home Instead Senior Care can help ensure a loved one can take advantage of the benefits of cognitive stimulation.

Last revised: June 26, 2019

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. December 18, 2018 at 7:32 am | Posted by Jessica Withers

    Hi My mom recently moved in with my brother and sister-in-law because she was diagnosed with dementia at 94 and we felt it was no longer safe for her in her apt. She was not eating properly, mixing up her medicine and isolating herself because she was in fear of the outside world. She is well taken care of there and I visit 2 to 3 days a week to accommodate their work schedule so she won’t be alone. She is now obsessing over the fact that she is a burden on them, and she refuses to make herself at home there. She begs me constantly to take her to my home and care for her or to put her in a home. We DO NOT want her to be cared for by strangers and assisted living is not an option because it is to expensive and we feel she needs Moore care than that. What can we do to get her out of the chair she sits in all day, and encourage her. She is refusing to go anywhere or do anything! Please help with some ideas.


    • December 28, 2018 at 9:07 am | Posted by Kathy

      Hi- My Family has cared for my parents for years in our home and now only my father, 91. I found that if they did something at my home where they felt they were contributing they felt less of a burden. My dad does all of our dishes even though we have a dishwasher. I also leave a load of very simple clothes for him to fold like towels. We also got a stationary bike that is very easy to sit in. He does 300 pedal rounds on that a day🙂. When we leave we leave a notebook with the list of tasks on it. He uses that to guide him through the day. It is not easy so kudos to your family.


  2. April 24, 2018 at 8:03 pm | Posted by Jerome

    Extremely helpful


  3. May 7, 2015 at 3:39 am | Posted by Judie

    My Dad passed away 1 year ago, Mum still sees him, he visits regularly and seems to have a friend. Mum does not know who this friend is. She cooks dinner for them but tells me they do not come back to eat them. Dad started staying overnight in the spare room but this does not happen now. When I visit Mum I often find food cooked plated in the fridge, and in the oven. She tells me to take them home I am very careful how I throw the food away and when I gently explain that Dad has died she gets angry and wants to know why, or she remembers but tells me she really does see him. How I deal with it over the year is I change the subject and say to Mum "cup of tea". I thought now its 12 months since Dad passed on that she would not see Dad, they still have fish and chips on a Friday night - that's what she tells me. Mum is alone in the family house and refuses to go to a Retirement Village, we do have caregivers that check on Mum in the morning but she insists she has had a shower already, (towel is normally dry) she hides from the caregivers and wont let them into the house and on another day she seems okay with this. I worry that she is taking double of her medication (has had stents put in - has several heart attacks - yes she does have St Johns alarm around her neck. My concerned when she cooks she does burn the food and has destroyed a few pots. My Mum is 89 years old.


    • June 5, 2015 at 2:52 am | Posted by Lorna

      Hi Judie, It's so sad for us, and incredibly scary for the person when dementia invades. I used to be utterly terrified of getting it myself and always thought "I'd rather be dead" BUT, the more I've learned over the past year (from MOOC's and online videos and articles), the less fearful I am of it. People with Alzheimers and other dementias don't HAVE to be unhappy. They can feel secure and joyful. The thing about forgetting that a loved one has died is that we no longer keep banging in the reality! That simply makes them grieve over and over again. You're doing the right thing by going with the flow there. Hazards such as trying to cook or when the bath geyser is set too high, mats and loose carpets, stairs and easily opened doors (to roads) are the one thing we HAVE to sort out. Less clutter is helpful to alleviate confusion but we have to be careful how we de-clutter (so as not to cause unhappiness as their things disappear) Slowly remove things that could cause falls, burns, cuts and so on. Put a big STOP road-sign on the inside of doors to the road outside. Get the stove disconnected altogether (you'll need to provide the daily meals) and perhaps, if you can, get your mom to a social sort of "day-care" once a day for the social stimulation (though that can have mixed success, it's good for you to see what can or should be done and what help is out there for you). I think you're going to need some full-time professional caregiver assistance soon for your mom and the best advice I can give you on that score is not to try and do it all yourself, involve the whole family and insist they co-operate and not abdicate responsibility for the job. The local Alzheimers and Dementia Organisation could probably help you there. On line, watch YouTube videos on the subject - I found any video with TEEPA SNOW in it to be the most positive, practical and helpful. Best of luck to you and your Mom.


      • June 5, 2015 at 2:57 am | Posted by Lorna

        I meant the day care is good once a week (not once a day). By the way, there are those plastic tray things with little "booths" for medications. You put the day's meds into the compartments for "Monday - Morning, Lunch-Time, Bedtime" and so on. That makes monitoring the medications much easier. You'd obviously have to sort them out once a day though. PS: Have you had your mom medically checked out and properly diagnosed? Other things can cause dementia which is sometimes reversible.


        • June 5, 2015 at 3:06 am | Posted by Lorna

          PPS: I seem to have a lot to say on the subject today! When you get the stove disconnected and made safe, tape a couple of big hand-written signs on it saying "BROKEN" and "DON'T TOUCH", and tell your mom that the guy is coming to fix it "next week" when she asks. You can give her a plate of biscuits or something "for Dad".


  4. November 19, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Posted by S. Gach

    Ps. Mom is 97 and is now living with me. I spend all her waking hours with her, but need some activity. She can't watch tv or listen to anything


    • July 29, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Posted by Kelly

      You might want to try tactile stimuli with your Mom. Give her things to touch and hold. Try things that will stimulate her memory. Did she have a favorite necklace, or a favorite scarf? I don't know if your Mom enjoyed cooking, but you could try letting her touch spoons or measuring cups. You can even try different types of fabric for her to touch. Get some soft fabric and then maybe some textured fabric. Try doing hand massages. Just get some lotion and do her hands and arms. This is really good for relaxing them. It might not seem like a lot, but any little activity helps.


  5. November 19, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Posted by S. Gach

    Mom is mostly deaf and has trouble seeing. Sleeps 22 hours a day. Any suggestions for activities. Used to love crossword puzzles, but can't see. Not interested in old friends, I believe she doesn't want them to know she has memory problems. I'd be grateful for any suggestions. Thx


    • February 19, 2015 at 5:32 am | Posted by James

      Music is always great particularly music she listened to as a young lady, trivia questions are always fun plus books played on CDs.


  6. July 21, 2014 at 3:39 am | Posted by jane George

    Adult protective services maybe helpful


    • July 27, 2014 at 10:01 am | Posted by KD

      Adult protective services has been involved with my grandmother and I will be honest they are not helpful. Yes they "diffused" the disagreements of care between family members, however they gave complete control to Jewish Family Services and they do not have my grandmother's best interests at heart. They are not taking care of her. I am actually researching now to find activities for the caretakers to do with her so I can make an "activity chest" for her. Do not go with adult protective services unless you ABSOLUTELY have no other recourse!


      • July 29, 2014 at 11:36 am | Posted by wendi

        A lot of times when adult protective services gets involved they take the decision making from the family and it ends up with people that don't care about the person. I've seen it too many times.


  7. February 15, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Posted by louis

    94 year old mom.....recently had a fall and broken her pelvis. Now post hospital she is in long term care and it has been a real journey! It's sad that this is how our seniors end up ............long term care where 'care' is a minimal term. :(


  8. August 14, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Posted by Lori

    My friend who is 91 years old. She was moved out of her home of 30 years by a friend to an independent living place. She kept asking me who had the authority to move me here, she also thought stuff she had that had value had been lost during her move and could not remember I had took her to the bank so she could get money out and a couple of days later had no money. So I reported it to elderly abuse. Then I guess she got upset and violent and was moved to a group home. I finally found her she has no family and they could not give me info where she was at because I was not family. It has been only 2 months that it took me to find her and she is totally different. They say she has full blown dementia. I mean she would forget things unimportant things but she took care of herself, her house, her yard, and her dog. Now she has nothing not even her hearing aid and remembers nothing unless I bring up stories she has told me in the past then she remembers. Can this dementia happen like this or could it be caused from stress. like moving, and then hand cuffed and moved again to a group home and has none of her stuff not even her dog. Thank you for any help you can give me.


  9. July 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Posted by JamesSmith2013

    I concur puzzle can be the best option...It helps to improve brain's thinking capability.. how to improve memory


    • September 20, 2014 at 4:38 am | Posted by Mark R.

      Puzzles are good,,,,,,but i feel it is a mistake to feed them book after book, and not let them experience as much of life as possible. It can become a unconscious way of setting them in a corner so that you don't have to deal with them. I am limiting puzzle books. The books end socialization, exercise, and maximizing use of the five senses. I am getting my mother outside to walk,,,,,to see the sky, trees, the river, birds, and to talk to neighbors,,,,That is true stimulus.


  10. June 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Posted by warren jensen

    I need further information on your services and the costs involved. Thank you.


    • July 1, 2013 at 11:00 am | Posted by Cat Koehler

      Warren, Please contact your local Home Instead Senior Care for service and rate information. You can find their contact information at Simply enter your zip-code so we can locate the nearest office. Cat Koehler Social Media Advocate Home Instead Senior care


  11. March 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Posted by Angela DiFranco

    My Mother is 91 and she cant talk ,walk or care for herself anymore due to severe dementia. I play music that she used to love and give her foods she loves to eat. She loves chocolate and cheese cakes. I give her hand, shoulder massages, and talk to her about the old days.I say her prayers for her and she nodds. This is just some ideas for severe dementia suffers to have some enjoyment.


    • April 7, 2015 at 7:20 pm | Posted by James

      She is very lucky to have you, sounds like your doing a wonderful job. Those small things mean so much to them.


  12. September 25, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Posted by Karen

    My mom was diagnosed with dementia and its really starting to hit home hard. She is the woman that has always been so strong for our family and now she's like a child. Love her so much and want to help out everyway that I can.


  13. September 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Posted by Esther Brana

    Your mom could listen to her favorite music.It will bring back good memories,she can also look at picture albums and remember her favorite moments.If your mother cannot walk,you can enjoy some stretching and range of motion.It can be fun when she can do this with a loved one.You can read to her as well,and watch a movie or her favorite show,sharing positive thoughts and emotions can be beneficial to your mom.You will see a great improvement!!!!!!


  14. July 20, 2012 at 1:36 am | Posted by Georgianna Asbury

    What is something my 97 year old Mother would enjoy doing since she can no longer talk or walk ...she sleeps most of the time. She used to do crossword puzzles but no longer..she needs something to do....tried hard now. Thank you


    • August 23, 2012 at 10:47 am | Posted by Carol

      We took my 82 year old Dad to the doctor yesterday. He has advanced cancer and has trouble walking. We were told to go get a wheet chair and ask HIM what he 'wants' to do / where he wants to go and then take him to go do it! I guess it's a simple thing but we forget to do it. We're going fishing!


    • May 6, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Posted by claret

      Try this book . Doodling for Seniors at $4.99 . It is meant for seniors who have difficulty in talking, walking and doing puzzles. If she can still hold a pen and draw then this should be possible for her to do. The dots are large and have pictures of everyday objects. Doing it everyday will help in gentle brain stimulation and will also occupy her meaningfully.


      • July 10, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Posted by Di Mitchell

        We are interested in getting some doodling books, can you tell us where to get them from


    • March 8, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Posted by karen

      hi Georgianna... I mother who was younger than yours, had the same limitations. Loved puzzles but all were too difficult. Memory Jogging Puzzles has easy puzzles with few pieces that your mother could do. 6 piece & 12 piece, they have large, chunky pieces for easy handling. Age appropriate for adults to enjoy.


    • July 21, 2014 at 3:37 am | Posted by jane George

      If she can hear play music and listen to radio by the bed side. Show her pictures of her childhood and of her family. Travel channels have beautiful scenery like water falls with sounds and visual beauty. geographic channel is a favorite of many older people. Which ever senses are working find to stimulate them. Touch is a therapeutic mechanism. Children around her may make her cheerful and happy. Have a care giving person who is resourceful to make her brain active. Read stories to her. Make her repeat it. Make her talk. Older people may be tired but they like people around and talk. Make her sing along. Make her remember child hood events.


  15. May 18, 2012 at 11:33 am | Posted by Betz Tepley

    After 23 years of living with my companion, he is in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, at the age of 92. I do not have any legal status in his life/family, but they do not know of his mental issues. He is starting to forget to pay bills, & is having problems with his bank statements... he is very "private" with his finances. I appreciate your info. Thank you.


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