Meaningful activities for residents with Alzheimer’s disease

Meaningful activities for residents with Alzheimer’s disease


September is World Alzheimer’s Month. In the United States alone, there were an estimated 5.7 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018, according to a reportpublished by the Alzheimer’s Association. As this population ages or their dementia worsens, it is more likely that they will need the help of long-term health care. In addition to meeting the healthcare needs of residents with Alzheimer’s, skilled nursing facilities help support their emotional well-being. Activities are an important part of helping residents remain engaged and improve their quality of life. For residents with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, activities can reduce agitation, anxiety, depression and anger. They may even reduce sundowning behavior or the need for medication.

Instead of filling the day with busy work, the Alzheimer’s Association encourages engaging residents with dementia in meaningful interactions and activities to help them maintain their functional abilities. Activities professionals and other facility staff create opportunities for meaningful interactions and activities that benefit residents. After their initial assessment and finding out a resident’s interests and capabilities, a plan can be created to engage them in activities. Suggested activities include:

  • Community gardening. Working in a garden or flower bed can be a rewarding activity that is very beneficial for residents with Alzheimer’s. It keeps them connected to nature and can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Spending time outside also helps maintain circadian rhythms and exposes residents to natural sunlight, which aids vitamin D absorption.
  • Pet therapy. Spending time with a pet has positive effects on the mind and body. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Community Health Nursing found that spending time with dogs can reduce the heart rate and lower blood pressure. For people with cognitive problems, pets can assist in relieving symptoms of irritation, anxiety and agitation.
  • Music therapy. Research has found that even people in the late stages of Alzheimer’s respond to music. Playing music or having a sing-along can help trigger old memories and encourage engagement.
  • Decorations. For a holiday or event, encourage residents to help in decorating the facility. Give them basic tasks that involve them in the process with easy-to-follow steps. For example, residents can put the ornaments on a Christmas tree or they could make simple decorations such as paper chains to hang in the hallways.
  • Field trips. Outings to museums, concerts and community events are mentally stimulating activities that help residents feel part of their local society.
  • Visual and tactile stimulation. Stimulating the visual and touch senses can be effective in creating social connections with residents in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. Collections of items such as fabric swatches, picture cards, pattern blocks and boards, stuffed animals, puzzles and dolls are interesting to look at and touch. In addition to being enjoyable, sensory stimulation can help trigger memories as well as reduce anxiety and depression.
The Compliance Store has several resources on caring for residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias as well as a Binder Basics to help activities professionals initiate and maintain a meaningful activities program. To learn more go to

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