Fun, creative activities can significantly improve the life of a person with Alzheimer’s. In the disease’s early stages, especially, physical and mental stimulation can delay the onset of dementia by as much as five years. Even in the middle and later stages, simple activities support positive mental health and reduce anxiety-driven behaviors, by creating a familiar, reassuring environment for the person in your care.

Most importantly of all, shared activities will help you stay connected with your loved one, and make the most of the months and years ahead. Even if they forget the details of these moments, they’ll still enjoy the time they spend with you — and along the way, you may learn surprising new things about them, too.

Here are 11 ideas for activities to share with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s — all of which can be personalized to fit their unique interests and abilities. Find a quiet, distraction-free spot and give them a try!

1. Play card games
2. Solve puzzles
3. Paint or draw
4. Play with clay
5. Make a collage
6. Look through old photos
7. Create a memory box
8. Sing or listen to music
9. Untie simple knots
10. Fold your laundry
11. Walk in the garden
Couple doing puzzle together, happy
Seniors looking at photos

1. Play card games

Many people with early-stage Alzheimer’s remember the rules of card games they learned earlier in life, and may get a huge kick out of some friendly competition. What’s more, frequent card games can help delay cognitive decline for up to five years. It’s usually best to stick with simpler ones like blackjack, go fish, war or Uno. You may want to bring a set of large-print playing cards with easy-to-read letters and numbers. Even if your loved one becomes confused or frustrated during a game, they may still like shuffling and sorting the cards.

2. Solve puzzles

Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes. Your loved one might enjoy putting together a large-piece jigsaw puzzle — especially one that’s personalized with a familiar photo — or playing with a simplified Rubik’s Cube. Crossword puzzles can also be fun to solve together, and may even help improve your loved one’s memory for words. And like card games, puzzle-solving has been shown to delay dementia, sometimes by several years.

3. Paint or draw

Artwork can be a great way for your loved one to express themself creatively. It can also help boost their memory — and may give you deeper insight into their thoughts and feelings, too. Bring some sheets of poster board or a roll of butcher paper, along with a set of colorful, non-toxic markers, crayons and/or paints. Then start doodling, sketching, or just experimenting with freeform shapes and colors. Chances are your loved one will be eager to join in.

4. Play with clay

Sculpting and molding can provide another fun outlet for creative expression, which some people with Alzheimer’s find easier than painting or drawing. Even if your loved one isn’t interested in making artwork, they may simply enjoy the feeling of smushing clay or play-dough between their hands. Tactile stimulation like this is great for motor skills, concentration, and confidence — and it’s a superb distraction from fidgeting behavior, too.

5. Make a collage

Creating a magazine collage with your loved one can be a huge amount of fun. Bring a stack with lots of colorful photos that fit their interests, then grab those safety scissors and start clipping! You might even try printing out some classic ads, catalog pages and magazine covers from your loved one’s younger days — which are sure to put a smile on their face, and may bring back memories they’ll be eager to talk about.

6. Look through old photos

Many people with Alzheimer’s have vivid memories of their childhood and early adulthood, and love a good stroll down memory lane. Show them some old family photos, and they may surprise you with stories you’ve never heard before. In fact, photo albums can set off a huge rush of reminiscence — keeping your loved one talking for hours about the world of yesteryear.

7. Create a memory box

A memory or rummage box can be a delightful project to share with your loved one, and the result will serve as a deeply meaningful keepsake. Just take an old shoebox or gift box, and fill it with objects related to your loved one’s career, hobbies and lifestyle. For example, if they love animals, put photos of their favorite pets in the box, along with a stuffed animal or two. If they liked fixing things, include some (safe) tools, bolts and screws. Going through the box with your loved one can reawaken lots of memories — and help them stay connected to their past.

8. Sing or listen to music

Your loved one may remember more tunes and lyrics than you expect — especially since singalong parties and school music classes were much more popular in earlier decades than they are today. Find a streaming playlist of classics from days gone by, and start singing along to familiar favorites. Your loved one may even surprise you by humming folk tunes and childhood melodies that are completely new to you. 

9. Untie simple knots

A lot of people with Alzheimer’s relish the challenge of untying a knot — as long as it’s not too tight, and the rope is thick enough to be easily handled. Start with a simple overhand knot, then try progressing to some more complex ones if your loved one enjoys the activity. Along the way, they might even remember how to tie a few knots they used in their younger days.

10. Fold your laundry

This might not sound like a fun-filled activity — but many people with Alzheimer’s enjoy the feeling of soft fabrics, the familiar smell of detergent, and the calming rhythm of the work. Plus, folding laundry can give you and your loved one the opportunity to spend some time together at home, while providing them with a feeling of accomplishment, and the confidence that they’re still able to help around the house.

11. Walk in the garden

A stroll through a flower or herb garden can be a delightful experience for you and your loved one. It’s a chance to breathe fresh air, feel the sun on your face, and appreciate the beauty of nature. Your loved one may enjoy exploring the textures of plants — while their smells can often reawaken vibrant emotional memories. If your loved one is up to it, you might even try planting or potting some flowers together.

All these activities have been tested and approved by Alzheimer’s caregivers. Still, when choosing an activity to share with your loved one, what’s most important is to stay attentive to their emotional responses. If a game or task stresses them out, simply switch to a different one. It may take some patience, but eventually you’ll find a project that makes both of you smile.

Women on walk together in the fall
2 women singing