I work full-time as a Recreation Therapist with seniors, including seniors with various forms of dementia. Over the last 16 or so years, I have tried hundreds of different products to improve the quality of life of the patients I work with. Of course since every patient is a unique individual, some products work very well for one person and not with another. In today's post, my goal is to tell you about the products that I found worked the best. We all want to buy the best products for our patients or loved ones so I hope today's post will help you decide on which ones are the best for you to buy. I will include links so it'll be easy for you to click on the link to purchase the item if you wish.
When trying these activities, always have the goal for the person to be left with the feeling of success.
1. JIGSAW PUZZLES
Puzzles can be a great activity for someone in early to moderate stages of dementia, but only if the puzzle is not too complicated. With every activity we introduce, we want the participant to enjoy the activity. Being challenged a little bit can be okay but overall you want the person to be successful in whatever activity they try. As a Recreation Therapist I assess patients to determine what activities work best so I can provide recommendations. I am always careful to try the easiest activities first. If you are short on money and want to create your own puzzle, you can easily cut up a picture from a magazine and make large puzzle pieces (make sure the picture isn't too busy...it should be a clear picture with very little going on). You can ask your family member to put the pieces together. If you see they enjoy puzzles and you're ready to invest in a few, the following easier puzzles are ones I would recommend. I always start the activity in a bit of a reverse way. I have all the pieces in the puzzle and take 3-4 pieces out. I ask the person to put those pieces back in. If they are successful, I take 6-8 pieces out and continue to make it more challenging each time. This way they are always successful and I get to know what they can and cannot do.
Easy Puzzles I recommend:
I like all of these because they're attractive for adults, have a background frame and the pieces are a moderate size which makes it easier to put together.
1. Around the Bird Feeder: https://amzn.to/3znCD8L
2. Blue Sky Birds: https://amzn.to/2TtuLDg
3. Singing Around the Bird House: https://amzn.to/36Saz19
4. Lake Cabin Labrador: https://amzn.to/3zprTXp
5. Kittens in Basket: https://amzn.to/3kID4q4
Moderate Difficulty Puzzles I recommend:
These puzzles don't have the background frame so they are a little more challenging. The scenes are beautiful and great for adults.
Autumn Market: https://amzn.to/3kU6IZk
Winter Snow: https://amzn.to/3kLtpPu
Springbok Birds of a Feather: https://amzn.to/2W63t6N (Customers who purchased this puzzle mentioned 'Alzheimer's' is written in large print on the box. You might want to take the puzzle out of the box before giving to your loved one.) Or, you can choose the other puzzles I recommended.
More Challenging Puzzles I recommend:
I would only recommend these for people in the early stage of dementia. These have 63 pieces and could be overwhelming for someone in moderate or later stages of dementia.
Farmers Market: https://amzn.to/3wZvASb
Lakeside Vacation: https://amzn.to/3BzFeOA
Burano Island: https://amzn.to/3zXQ0g4
2. MATCHING ACTIVITIES
Matching activities are one of those things that some people with dementia are really good at at, even in later stages of dementia, but others can't do it at all. Before purchasing these, I'd like to give a few free suggestions for you to try. I have used a deck of cards on many occasions where I put one black card down on the table with a red card beside it. In front of the person with dementia, I'll show them how our goal is to put the same colour card down in the correct pile. If this is easy for them, you can try making piles of each suit and start again. Another thing to try, would be to cut up different patterns of paper or even different colours of paper and again, have them put the matching piece on top of the other. There are lots of different matching activities you can create for free. If you'd like to purchase some, these are ones I find work well.
Match the Shapes: https://amzn.to/3jguBb5
Match the Shapes: https://amzn.to/2VqMJ9Y (similar to the one above but designed for low vision).
Bird Groups Match the Photos: https://amzn.to/2WNnSht
3. FIDGET PRODUCTS & SENSORY BLANKETS
In my experience, fidget toys don't work well but I have not worked with every single person so they might work for your loved one. I have purchased many different types of typical fidget toys on the market and 95% of the time I would say they end up on the floor within a few minutes. I wouldn't suggest any of the plastic fidget toys you see on the market since I have never seen any of those work (let me know if they worked for your loved one!).
If you wish to try one because your family member is a very busy person, this is one which a family member had bought for a patient I worked with and it worked well for him. When reading the reviews, lots of people purchase them for their baby, but this one is suitable for adults as well. It has lots of things to keep their hands busy.
With sensory blankets, quilts, (also called 'touch blankets'), I have definitely had more success. Again, it is one of those things that works well or doesn't work at all. They can be very costly as well. It's tough to make one yourself because you need to ensure the items put onto the blanket are safe since some people with dementia might put the items in their mouth (buttons for example which could be a choking hazard). If your loved one is someone who likes to fiddle with stuff, open/close containers, constantly zips and unzips their sweater, etc., the sensory blankets might work well for them. I would suggest sewing straps onto them so you can tie the blanket onto their wheelchair if they are in a nursing home. It is really challenging finding blankets with straps already sewn on. Where I work, we have a lovely volunteer who sews and creates blankets for us so I have not tried the ones I am recommending below. I looked at the options online and these are two that I feel would work best.
The reviews for this one are good and I like that fact that it opens up like a book. From my experience, I can see this working well. Sensory Blanket: https://amzn.to/3jdP00z
This one has a lot of items to fiddle with which is why I am recommending this one. It is also a bit cheaper than some of the other ones online. https://amzn.to/3lj2lra
4. ACTIVITY BOOKS/COGNITIVE ACTIVITIES
Activity books are great for people in early to moderate stages of dementia. I have not tried all of these but have looked at the pictures online to get a good idea of which ones would be best. These are the ones I recommend.
Fun and Relaxing Activity Book: I really like this one. It's large print, easy to understand, has a good variety of activities and is reasonably priced. I have seen this one since a family member purchased it and I would definitely recommend it: https://amzn.to/2V72tQ0
Another Fun and Relaxing Activity Book: This one is similar to the one above. https://amzn.to/3rSfHvF
Easy Adult Activity Book: I can't see all the images of the activities in this book but it looks similar to the ones above. https://amzn.to/3C5yaK2
Fun and Easy Activity Book: Another good one with various activities. https://amzn.to/3rSfYib
Expressions Engaging Activities: This is an activity I often use. I find a lot of people with dementia can still answer the common phrases. It engages the mind, is a fun activity and stimulates conversation. I also offer a word document attachment in another one of my posts so you can print that one off for free. If you want to purchase this one, the link is attached here: https://amzn.to/3jdDgeH When I use this product, I cover up the answer with my thumb as I have them read the beginning of the phrase and let them answer. If they can't think of the answer, I give them hints or just provide the answer. If they struggle with answering, the activity is too challenging for them and should be avoided.
Easy Relaxing Puzzles: These are large print, easy word search puzzles which are great for moderate dementia. I find once people get to later stages of dementia, word searches are too challenging. https://amzn.to/2WDFlZw
Easy Large Print Word Searches: These are a little more challenging than the previous link. These would be suitable for early to moderate levels of dementia. https://amzn.to/3C4rgEO
5. COLOURING BOOKS
There are lots of colouring books on the market for people with dementia but many of them are not great because the pictures are too detailed and overwhelming for people with dementia. It's amazing how the right colouring pages can keep someone with dementia busy for hours. If you think, "Oh, my dad would NEVER want to do something childish like colouring!" Colouring can be a very therapeutic activity. Please give it a try! If you want free colouring pages, you can find fantastic ones at www.supercoloring.com. They have a ton of free colouring sheets suitable for all ages. They have antique cars, flowers, plants, birds and the list goes on and on. Before purchasing a book, I would suggest trying some of the free ones to see if they enjoy it first. I highly recommend the site. I usually use coloured pencils rather than markers but you can try wax crayons, coloured pencils or markers (some people with dementia will try to eat the wax crayons so make sure to observe them!). If you want to purchase a book already made for you, these are ones I would recommend:
Simple Coloring Book for Adults: These are very simple colouring sheets. Best for moderate to advanced dementia. https://amzn.to/3fpfB9R
Flower Coloring Book: These are more detailed and 'busy'. These are definitely better for early stages of dementia. https://amzn.to/3CadaBG
Birds and Flowers: These are very simple colouring sheets and great for moderate to advanced dementia. https://amzn.to/2WQmqep
6. PICTURE BOOKS
Picture books can be a great activity for people with dementia. With the right picture books, some people with dementia will flip through the books over and over. Often the photos will spark conversation which is great since it can often be difficult to know what to talk about in the later stages of dementia. The books below had great reviews online.
The Picture Book of Babies: https://amzn.to/37iWFoV
The Picture Book of Cats: https://amzn.to/3xj0hln
The Picture Book of Churches: https://amzn.to/2V749Jh
The Picture Book of Gardens: https://amzn.to/3rQq4jv
The Picture Book of Dogs in Costumes: https://amzn.to/2Vem80i
The Happy Book Babies: https://amzn.to/3ln4x0P
The Picture Book of Horses: https://amzn.to/3jdDgeH
If you have other products you would like advice on or would like me to review them and give you feedback, please let me know! I hope the suggestions above help to provide your loved one with enjoyment throughout their day!
Disclaimer: If you do happen to purchase one of the products above, I do receive a very small commission from the purchase. You will not pay anything extra (the cost is the same regardless whether you purchase from the link above or on your own through Amazon). I did look up these products through other companies to see if you can pay less but from what I found, the price was the same.