If you’re an elderly person with dementia, having a hobby can keep you active physically and mentally. Participating in a hobby can also increase social contact, so you’re not left feeling isolated by your condition. That’s why we’ve come up with some great hobbies for elderly folks with dementia.
Among great hobbies for elderly folks with dementia are dancing, listening to music, swimming, and yoga. They’ll stimulate the mind and body and help decrease social isolation. Like all the best hobbies for dementia, they’ll improve your quality of life by keeping you active and engaged.
In this article, you’ll find out more about the benefits of taking part in the 9 great hobbies for dementia we’ve looked at. We’ll explain in more detail below. But first, let’s consider how dementia can affect you, as it’s these issues that participating in hobbies can minimize.
What Does Having Dementia Mean?
Dementia is a condition resulting in the loss of cognitive function beyond the mental decline of normal aging.
Like most people, you’ve probably heard of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common cause of dementia. About 60-80% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s. The next most common type is vascular dementia, which makes up about 10% of cases.
Dementia symptoms vary between individuals and dementia types. However, the characteristic of dementia is that the symptoms impact your daily life:
|Common Symptoms of Dementia|
|Cognitive||Psychological and Physical|
|Inability to pay attention and focus on a task||Behavioral issues, including aggression or inappropriate behavior|
|Difficulty communicating||Restlessness and agitation|
|Struggling with problem-solving||Anxiety|
|Inability to plan ahead or organize||Personality changes|
|Loss of coordination||Reduced mobility and balance|
Although the loss of cognitive decline can be devastating, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. On the contrary, there are many hobbies that people with dementia can and should enjoy. And, they’ll ensure you stay active mentally and physically.
As you may be aware, dementia symptoms become progressively worse over time. But even then, it’s essential to continue with hobbies. You may need help from carers to do so, but staying engaged can improve wellbeing and quality of life.
With that very much in mind, here are 9 great hobbies for elderly folks with dementia.
Dancing is a wonderful way for elderly folks with dementia to enjoy physical activity. However, it’s also stimulation for the brain, whether it’s recalling steps or learning new ones.
Even if you’re just making it up as you go along, you’re still having to come up with your next move. That helps engage thought processes. And, this type of move to the groove dance can be an enjoyable means of self-expression.
Evidence That Dance Is Beneficial for Elderly Folks With Dementia
A study from 2011 found that dance benefits elderly people with dementia on several fronts. It wasn’t limited to the physical movement that participants enjoyed. But they also saw emotional and cognitive improvements.
The dance sessions in the study involved circle dancing. That’s a traditional community-based dance that promotes social and physical interaction. The basis of a circle dance is that the participants in the circle move together to the music. The emphasis is on moving with the music rather than on precision in the moves.
So, touching and handholding are an essential part of the experience. That’s what gives a sense of togetherness and belonging.
This kind of dance is also perfect for self-expression. As long as you move, it doesn’t really matter if you end up doing your own thing.
That’s why participants in the study were free to improvise as they wished. Such spontaneous movement is a great way for elderly people with dementia to communicate. As you’ve read above, verbal communication is often difficult.
Anyone Can Dance
You don’t need to be put off dance because you have physical limitations. You can adapt it to suit your physical abilities. So those who find it hard to stand or balance aren’t precluded from the therapeutic benefits.
You can see this from the following clip of a seated dance session.
You’ll notice how the instructor walks through the dance steps first. Learning the steps provides mental stimulation for elderly dementia sufferers. However, you’ll also see how no-one seems too concerned about everyone doing the steps exactly right.
Even when the tempo goes up a gear, you can see from this video how participants move to their own abilities:
You can also enhance the experience and visual impact by using colorful props. In this video, it was colored scarves, but you can really use whatever you want.
What’s more, you don’t even need to find a formal session to get involved. Dance is something you can do at home with carers, family and friends. And, it can either be done in person or using video conferencing software like Zoom.
Either way, it’s a great way to bring people together and just have some fun. Just relax and let the music move you — literally!
Listening to Music
For many of us, music plays an integral role in our lives in one way or another. Music connects us to who we are and who we were. It can evoke memories we might have thought were long-forgotten.
It doesn’t matter if you just listen casually or if you’re a connoisseur. Music is something with which we all can associate. And we can remember tunes we may not have heard in years. That’s why listening to music makes an excellent hobby for elderly folks with dementia.
It may have to do with the fact that our auditory system reaches a functional level while we’re in the womb. So auditory memory is deep-seated. So, while dementia may rob you of many aspects of memory, your recall of music may still remain. One study of this involved an elderly dementia sufferer. When researchers played a familiar tune, she sang along. She also continued to do so even after the music stopped.
The following video demonstrates the power of music perfectly. It shows what happened when a former ballerina with dementia listened to a familiar piece of music. It was almost as if a light was suddenly switched on inside her.
Listening to familiar music may also help memory in other ways. In the following video, the lady with dementia couldn’t recall her daughter’s name. Watch what happened after she listened to some old tunes.
So, listening to music can spark memories and elicit both verbal and physical responses in us. And as you’ve seen, having dementia doesn’t alter that.
Playing Music and Singing
So, passive listening seems to be beneficial to elderly people with dementia. But you may be wondering about active participation in making music.
Music-Making Skills May Survive Dementia
If you learned to play music when you were younger, it’s a bit like riding a bike. It’s something you don’t forget how to do because it’s ingrained in your memory. So, you can do it without thinking about it. Our ability to recall such things is known as procedural or implicit memory, distinct from explicit memory.
If you have dementia, your explicit memory will deteriorate. So, over time, you lose the capacity to recall names or events. You may also struggle to remember information that you were given moments previously. In contrast, procedural memory appears to remain intact to some extent. Certainly where playing music is concerned.
Late last year, an 80-year-old former music teacher with dementia ended up with a chart-topping hit. His son had challenged him to improvise a tune out of just four notes. His son recorded him playing it, and the video went viral. The piece was then recorded by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and headed to the top of the music charts.
Now, there are times when the man can’t remember even composing the tune. Yet he had no difficulty playing it. The story shows the power of procedural memory. And it demonstrates how that memory survives even though explicit memory fades.
You can watch and listen to the piece in the following video.
Music-Making Can Have Behavioral and Cognitive Benefits
As you’ve read above, dementia can bring with it behavioral issues. The behavior might involve wandering. Or, it might result in restlessness or physical or verbal aggression.
Dementia can also limit your ability to focus attention on anything. You might also struggle with words, making it challenging and frustrating to communicate. It can all lead to you becoming withdrawn and depressed. However, taking part in musical activities seems to have a positive impact on these issues. These activities might involve playing an instrument or even singing.
This was the finding of a 2014 review of available literature on the topic. Researchers concluded that music is an effective therapy for behavioral problems. Also, they found the evidence showed it helped to relieve depression and anxiety.
That review also found participating in music had a beneficial impact on cognition. A later study in 2019 reinforced this finding. That study used a group music therapy program on patients with mild to moderate dementia. For part of it, participants played along to familiar music with bucket drums and egg shakers.
The researchers found the therapy improved the participants’ general cognition. In particular, they noted improvements in the participants’ attention and verbal fluency. The latter can help improve communication.
As you’ll see from the following video, singing can also benefit communication.
The benefits of participation in music therapy for elderly dementia sufferers seem clear. It can rekindle memories and bring improvements in behavior and cognitive function. These improvements can help you feel reconnected. It may sometimes lead to something of a reawakening.
Arts and Crafts
Conclusive scientific backing for art as a therapeutic tool for elderly people with dementia is lacking.
How Can Art and Crafts Help Dementia?
Yet, individual studies do suggest participating in art can be helpful. Amongst others, there was a study in 2013. It involved dementia patients in a program of viewing and then creating art. The art-creation took various forms from watercolor paints and pencils to collages.
Researchers reported participants’ own perceptions were that their quality of life had improved. In particular, the participants’ level of engagement and focus increased. Some also saw improvements in memory. The gains were evident both before and after each session.
Another study in 2017 focused on sculpting. It found sculpting improved several aspects of wellbeing. In particular, there were notable increases in concentration levels and the participants’ self-esteem.
As well as the benefits mentioned above, art creation can provide a means of self-expression. That’s something that dementia sufferers often find challenging to do verbally. And when it’s done as part of a group, it can provide a much-needed sense of social inclusion. That’s important when you consider the isolating effect dementia can have.
The great thing about arts and crafts is they’re accessible, and you can easily do them home. In addition, arts and crafts don’t just provide mental stimulation through creativity. One aspect of the behavioral issues of dementia is fidgety hands. These hobbies will keep your hands busy in a productive way.
What Kind of Activities Are There?
So, consider activities like:
Making something tangible will give a sense of purpose. That has a lot to do with self-esteem, which can suffer if you have dementia.
One thing of note is the findings of the 2013 study mentioned above. Part of the program involved viewing art, and participants were then asked to comment on it. Participants in that study reported that being asked for their views made them feel valued. Something dementia can strip away.
Even if you don’t want to create art, viewing and discussing it can positively impact your confidence and feelings of self-worth. There’s potentially a great deal that an elderly person with dementia can gain from art and crafting. Whether viewing or creating, it’ll improve your cognition and keep your creative mind and hands active.
There’s something about being in water that most people find relaxing. A warm pool is a calm and soothing environment. That’s what makes swimming a great hobby for an elderly person with dementia to take up. Though if using a public pool, you should look out for special dementia sessions.
As you’ve read above, restlessness is one of the challenging behaviors affecting people with dementia. Exercise, such as swimming, may provide an outlet. However, a hobby that involves physical exertion has other benefits for dementia. In a 2013 report, researchers reviewed a raft of available evidence on the effect of exercise on people with dementia.
They concluded that all indications pointed to exercise having a positive impact. In particular, there were improvements in the ability to perform daily living tasks. Researchers noted that there may also be a cognitive benefit from exercise and swimming is the perfect exercise because it works a whole range of muscles. So, with just one form of exercise, you can improve your strength and overall fitness.
Further, many people with dementia have mobility issues, especially in the late stage of the disease. Or, they may have other ailments like arthritis that restrict their mobility. If that sounds familiar, swimming is a way to get around those issues. It can give you greater freedom to move around. That can feel liberating if you have restricted movement on dry land.
Yoga is another relaxing hobby that’s ideal for elderly folks with dementia. As you may know, it focuses on both the mind and body. The mental aspect is crucial based on a study from 2013, which looked at the meditative aspect of yoga. Researchers concluded it may help slow deterioration in parts of the brain most affected by dementia. It’s the damage in those areas that result in problems with memory, learning, and emotions.
Indeed, a 2019 review of previous studies supported this. It concluded yoga might improve cognitive function in people with dementia. In particular, it seemed beneficial to verbal memory and improved ability to focus.
However, elderly people may already have physical problems, like arthritis. Dementia can bring further issues. So traditional yoga may not be possible for many. But that’s no problem. Chair yoga is a special adaptation of the exercise designed so you can do it seated or using a chair for support. There’s evidence from 2014 that chair yoga has real physical benefits for elderly people with dementia.
In the study, the participants undertook two sixty-minute sessions a week. Each session started with breathing exercises before moving on to the yoga poses. The session finished up with a period of meditation.
All participants in this small study showed improvements in walking ability and balance. These improvements came after only eight weeks.
Yoga has the potential to improve the symptoms of dementia on several fronts. What’s more, chair yoga is something you can get started with straight away. All you’ll need is a chair and an instructional video like the one below.
Of course, attending a class that caters to elderly people with dementia will also increase social contact. That’s something that elderly people with dementia sorely need but often go without. And as discussed above, social interaction can help reduce isolation and depression.
Walking is an excellent hobby for getting elderly folks with dementia outside. What’s even better about it is you can adapt it to suit your physical abilities.
You Can Walk Even if You Need Support
It doesn’t matter if you can walk unsupported or need to use a mobility aid like a walking stick or rollator. Just be aware that the risk of falls in people with dementia is greater than for those without. If you feel unsteady when walking or struggle to lift your feet, make sure you have the appropriate support. Preferably, walk with someone who can help you if the need arises.
If you’re thinking you tire too quickly to make going out walking worthwhile, there’s a solution. You can invest in a rollator that has a built-in seat so you can stop and rest when you need to. One example is this BEYOUR Upright Rollator. As you can see, it has a seat with a backrest, and the large front wheels provide extra stability.
What Are the Benefits of Walking?
Research reviews have shown that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of dementia. Further, studies tell us that brisk walking can improve memory in older people who don’t have dementia. But, what if you already have Alzheimer’s? Well, a 2012 report found that it can still slow or halt the cognitive decline.
Indeed, this report found walking actually improved cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients. This applied to those who walked for two or more hours a week over the study’s twelve months.
Vascular dementia sufferers can also take heart. A 2018 study showed walking can also improve brain function in people with vascular dementia. The study involved participants walking briskly for sixty-minutes three times a week. Researchers found that doing so improved thinking ability in comparison to non-walkers. So, the walkers were better able to focus their attention and make decisions quickly.
Walking outside in the sunshine is also an easy way to get a dose of Vitamin D. That vitamin is vital to bone and muscle health. And research shows it gets harder for your skin to absorb vitamin D as you get older. That can be a problem because vitamin D deficiencies can lead to mobility issues. It can also increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The more time you can spend outside, the better. Based on the research, walking is a perfect way for elderly people with dementia to do it.
Gardening is another great hobby for elderly folks with dementia. It’ll get you outdoors and engaged with your environment.
Dementia can affect self-confidence and lead to social withdrawal. Often, that means that elderly people with dementia tend to spend a lot of time indoors. Together this can lead to depression, increased inactivity, and further cognitive decline.
How Can Gardening Help With Dementia?
What makes gardening a great hobby for people with dementia? Recent studies tell us that gardening has the potential to improve memory and cognitive function in seniors. It can also decrease agitation, which is common in dementia. This can help in improving emotional wellbeing.
Also, it’s another way to get outside, where you’ll increase your vitamin D exposure. Planting and trimming plants is a way to use and improve motor skills. Caring for plants can also add a welcome sense of purpose and give a feeling of achievement. That’s the case whether your plants are ornamental or edible.
Again, gardening is one of those hobbies that you can adapt to suit your physical ability level. So, light gardening, like planting and watering, is ideal if you want to take it easy. Or, if you’re able, you can get a bit more physical by weeding or even digging.
Gardening Can Give Your Senses a Boost
A garden is a calming environment. It’s a place where you can engage your five primary senses, sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. So, you’ll find stimulation for both mind and body from all angles.
And there are various ways you can increase the sensory benefits. For example, you can put out bird feeders. Then watch and listen to the increased number of birds that will visit your garden.
Also, adding a running water feature brings a soothing sound. That can increase the calming effect that being out in the garden can have. Adding plants that have strong aromas is also a good idea if you have dementia. Think of plants like lavender and rosemary. They have strong scents, especially when you brush against them.
Lavender also attracts bees. Their gentle buzzing adds another dimension of sound to your garden. Plant buddleia, and you’ll attract butterflies. This will add an array of colors and gentle movement to your space.
And once you’re done creating your sensory haven, don’t forget the most important job of all in the garden. Sitting back and enjoying it.
After all that physical activity, you might be looking for something less active. One that will challenge your mind and keep your hands busy is doing jigsaw puzzles. It’s also great for those rainy days when you can’t get out in the garden or go for a walk.
Researchers have established that you engage many cognitive skills when you work on a jigsaw puzzle. That’s because you have to think about the shape and color of the pieces to see where they fit in. This might involve mentally rotating pieces, changing their orientation in your mind to assess where they might fit.
But, doing jigsaw puzzles isn’t only good exercise for your brain. You’re also exercising hand-eye coordination in selecting the right piece and placing it correctly. Jigsaw puzzles are also a stimulating way to relax but still keep your mind active and focused. It’s a hobby that can also boost self-esteem because of the sense of accomplishment it brings.
When choosing a jigsaw puzzle, it’s best not to go for anything too complicated. At the same time, to keep you interested, you’ll need something that’s not too easy. Also, bright colors will help to keep the puzzle engaging. Large puzzle pieces also help if you find it hard to pick up small objects.
An example of the kind of puzzle you could start with is this 300 Large Piece Puzzle for Adults. The image is sharp, with an excellent selection of bright colors. However, there’s an almost endless choice of jigsaw puzzles with various piece numbers and sizes. So, spend some time choosing what’s right for you.
Hopefully, among these 9 great hobbies for elderly folks with dementia, you’ll find at least one that you can enjoy. As you’ve seen, while you’re enjoying yourself, you’ll benefit mentally and emotionally. That will boost your general wellbeing and quality of life.
While there may be no cure for dementia, don’t let it get in the way of seeking out ways to enrich your life with hobbies to stimulate your mind and body. Rest assured, the hobbies described above will ensure you’ll have lots of fun along the way.
- National Institute on Aging: What Is Dementia?
- Alzheimer’s Association: Dementia v Alzheimer’s Disease: What is the Difference?
- UCSF: Vascular Dementia
- CDC: What is Dementia?
- Research Gate: Dancing down memory lane’: Circle dancing as a psychotherapeutic intervention in dementia – A pilot study
- Wikipedia: Circle Dance
- Youtube: Sit N Dance Seated Cha Cha
- Youtube: Macarena… Dança Sénior Portugal
- Youtube: CanCan… Dança Sénior Portugal
- Zoom: Zoom
- Science Direct: Auditory Development in the Fetus and Infant
- NCBI: Music, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease: is music recognition spared in dementia, and how can it be assessed?
- Youtube: ‘Emotional’: former ballet dancer with Alzheimer’s reacts to Swan Lake music
- Youtube: Music and Dementia: The Power of Music on Alzheimer’s
- Wikipedia: Procedural Memory
- Wikipedia: Explicit Memory
- The Guardian: ‘I didn’t expect a fuss’: How a composer with dementia got to No 1
- BBC: About the Orchestra
- Composer with Dementia Hears Piece for the First Time
- NCBI: ‘Singing for the Brain’: A qualitative study exploring the health and wellbeing benefits of singing for people with dementia and their carers
- Psychiatry and Mental Health Nursing: Music therapy for service users with dementia: a critical review of the literature
- Frontiers in Psychology: A ‘Music, Mind and Movement’ Program for People With Dementia: Initial Evidence of Improved Cognition
- Electronic Drum Advisor: How to Play Bucket Drums
- Musicademy: Ask the Expert: How to Play the Egg Shaker
- Wikipedia: Verbal Fluency Test
- Youtube: Singing for the Brain: An Introduction
- NPR: How Music Therapy Could Help People With Dementia
- NCBI: Art Therapy for People with Dementia
- Research Gate: Viewing and making art together: A multi-session art-gallery-based intervention for people with dementia and their carers
- Science Direct: Effects of Sculpture-Based Art Therapy in Dementia Patients
- Alzheimer’s.org: Tackling Loneliness in People Living with Dementia
- NCBI: Exercise Programs for People with Dementia
- Alzheimer’s Association: Stages of Alzheimer’s
- Eurek Alert: Stress reduction through meditation may aid in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease
- NCBI: The Effects of Yoga on Patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia
- Better Help: What Can Verbal Memory Help Us Remember?
- Wikipedia: Chair Yoga
- NCBI: The effect of chair yoga in older adults with moderate and severe Alzheimer’s disease
- Youtube: Chair Yoga Practice for Seniors
- Very Well Health: How a Rollator Differs From a Walker
- OUP: Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer’s Type: An Important Risk Factor for Serious Falls
- Amazon: BEYOUR Upright Rollator
- NCBI: Association between sedentary behavior and the risk of dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- NIH: Moderate Exercise May Improve Memory in Older Adults
- NCBI: Walking Stabilizes Cognitive Functioning in Alzheimer’s Disease Across One Year
- NCBI: Aerobic exercise promotes executive functions and impacts functional neural activity among older adults with vascular cognitive impairment
- NIH: Vitamin D
- NCBI: Problems of Vitamin D Deficiency In Older People
- NCBI: Benefits of Gardening Activities for Cognitive Function According to Measurement of Brain Nerve Growth Factor Levels
- Research Gate: Horticultural Therapy Horticultural Therapy for the Cognitive Functioning of Elderly People with Dementia
- Sage: Horticultural Therapy in Patients With Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Sensory Trust: How Many Senses Do We Have?
- NCBI: Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective Factor for Cognitive Aging
- Amazon: 300 Large Piece Puzzle for Adults