Stimulating activities like painting, watching live music and playing memory games can create meaning for your loved ones with dementia according to Cameron Camp, Director at Myers Research Institute of Menorah Park Center for Senior Living.

But the benefits of activities like these don’t stop there. Some activities can help older adults maintain fine motor skills, allowing them to continue performing daily tasks for themselves such as tying shoes or washing dishes. Other activities can lessen agitation and depression and, most importantly, allow an individual to feel independent.

Although stimulating activities like playing music and doing art projects are not proven to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, engaging in these types of pastimes can greatly improve quality of life for those with memory loss. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be discussing ideas for enjoyable, mentally stimulating activities that your loved one might enjoy. Today, it’s all about fun and games.

Engage the brain with a fun game

A study published in 2001 in The American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementia indicated that playing Bingo could provide therapeutic mental stimulation to those with Alzheimer’s disease. In the study, individuals who playedBingo performed significantly better on measures of cognition than participants who did not play.

In the Bingo study, staff caregivers reported an increase in alertness and awareness in the test subjects lasting several hours after playing the game. Whether these cognitively-stimulating games provide long-term improvement is still unknown, but even these short-term benefits can brighten the day for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and for their caregiver.

Choosing the right games

When choosing a game to play with someone with memory loss, it’s important to take their own skills into account and choose an activity that is fun rather than frustrating.

If ordinary games seem to be a good fit for your loved one, try putting a personalized twist on memory games in order to maximize the benefits of game play. Print out several family pictures, two copies of each, and place them on the table so that each player can take a turn naming a picture for the other player to find. This is a great way to stimulate the mind, help your loved one recall their family members and spark conversation about family memories.

You can also purchase or create other variations on low-intensity memory games that are appropriate for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or another dementia. For example, the site Memory Jogging Puzzles includes both puzzles and card games featuring Norman Rockwell art from the Saturday Evening Post. Karen Miller, the developer of these games, found that the images resonated strongly with many residents with Alzheimer’s in the assisted living center where she worked.

If you think these types of games might be too difficult for your loved one, an activity as simple as sorting buttons, poker chips, and bottle caps (of different sizes and colors) can be a great alternative. Or, for a more structured spin on this activity, try a game like Qwirkle, which is based on dominoes. Qwirkle offers players colorful game pieces that can be used, depending on your loved one’s interest and ability, to play an organized game or to create patterns and images.

Think “Failure Free”

Especially with those in later stages of dementia, keep games and activities “failure free.” If your loved one finds the original “rules” of an activity frustrating on unengaging, let them set new guidelines for the game.

Games are only one of the many enjoyable activities that you can share with your older loved one. In the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing ideas for craft projects, musical activities and other pastimes to enjoy with your older loved ones. Visit our blog every Wednesday to learn more.

Looking for more activities to share with your older loved ones? Check out these resources for finding classic movies online.