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Memory Care Activities for Seniors with Dementia

in Alzheimer's & Dementia

A holistic approach to care provides Spectrum Retirement Memory Care residents a broad range of activities.


Independence. Productivity. Accomplishment. Purpose.


In a cognitive sense, those four words are the ambrosia of brain food. It could be said that quality of life relies on having a balanced diet of them all. In the case of people with memory loss, the Memory Care activities for seniors help ensure they receive their necessary daily dose.

Come to find out, there’s a lot more that goes into planning memory care activities than creating a calendar filled with fun and entertainment. We talked with Kelly Focht, senior director of Memory Care for Spectrum Retirement Communities, to find out the recipe for success. Turns out, the key to a well-rounded Memory Care program is variety. A diverse menu of Memory Care activities for seniors allows residents to participate regardless of their current interests, skills, and abilities.


Fostering Independence

“We follow a person-centered, more holistic approach to care, looking at activities a little different than most Senior Living communities,” says Focht.

The Spectrum Retirement Memory Care team is trained using a Montessori-based philosophy for Memory Care. Team members guide residents through activities using verbal cues, offering visual hints by pointing or demonstrating, and by breaking tasks down into simple steps. “If we do too much for residents, we take away from their ability to continue to build on their strengths and to sustain the memories they have,” says Focht. “People with memory loss just can’t store short-term memories, but there is so much in their long-term memories we can tap into.”

Every element — from activities of daily living (ADLs) to Memory Care activities — is designed to maximize a resident’s functional independence. The key is to guide and encourage residents to try, Focht explains. Team members always assume a resident has the ability to complete a task or participate in an activity.

“We start at a success point,” she explains. “We look at what they’ve done in their life, what things are of interest, and that’s where we start. It doesn’t mean we don’t introduce new things, but we start where they’re successful.”


Being Productive

Exercise Programs

Movement and inventing ways for residents to stay active is the cornerstone of Memory Care programming. “It’s a big part of our day,” Focht says, “because it’s important to keep blood flowing to the brain.” Group exercise promotes socialization and bonding with neighbors while team-based games keep both body and mind engaged by encouraging cooperation.

Focht says exercise activities are often combined with music and singing. It not only makes it more fun but also helps residents to maintain a rhythm to their movements. A combination of Memory Care activities for seniors keeps them interested while providing a wide range of benefits.

One more reason exercise is a must in any Memory Care program: a bit of exercise increases the likelihood residents participate in other activities, adding a dash of productivity to the day.


Sorting Challenge

Although some activities may seem a bit simplistic, every activity is designed to reinforce or build important skill sets. The sorting challenge requires a resident to place items such as colored balls into bowls, sorting them by color or size. This simple activity offers crossover benefits for residents. The repetitive act stimulates brain activity while “sorting items and picking up and grasping small things helps build fine motor skills,” Focht explains. “This translates into areas like buttoning a shirt or picking up a fork, spoon, or knife and feeding themselves. Residents feel productive and purposeful by completing ADLs on their own.”


Allowing for Accomplishment

gardening for seniors with dementia


Most Spectrum Retirement Memory Care neighborhoods have their own designated area of garden plots because gardening offers multiple benefits. The first is the tactile part of gardening. As dementia progresses, activating the senses is crucial to maintaining cognitive connections, Focht explains.

Secondly, gardening is an activity that’s beneficial for the entire community, giving gardeners a sense of accomplishment. Herbs are planted to be used in meals or to make herb butter. Tomatoes and other vegetables are incorporated into recipes. Some residents plant certain flowers intended to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. This opens new opportunities for other residents to maintain hummingbird feeders or simply relax and enjoy watching butterflies.


DIY Crafts & Projects

The end goal of any DIY activity is to leave residents with a sense of accomplishment. Focht says team members pay special attention to the types of Memory Care activities for seniors they plan. “You won’t ever see crayons,” she says, “because the residents are adults. The craft will always be something useful [such as coasters that residents take back to their apartment and use under glasses or cups] or purposeful.”

For the latter, Focht shares how one community coordinated an on-site dog adoption event with their local Humane Society. Memory care residents painted, fired, and glazed dog dishes, made homemade dog biscuits, then gave them away to community members who adopted a dog. (They hope to repeat this activity once COVID-19 is no longer a concern.)


Creating a Sense of Purpose

technology activities for seniors

Tech Activities

Technology plays a huge role in creating purposeful connections for Memory Care residents. “Using technology helps us to expand the world for our residents,” says Focht. Whether it’s a weekly Skype or video chat with family, using Google Earth to help residents locate a childhood home, or facilitating a virtual tour to a favorite vacation spot, “these types of engagements have taken on a new meaning since COVID-19, allowing residents to reminisce and have meaningful moments,” she says.

Some residents may choose to nibble a little of each activity. Others may prefer a heaping plate of one or two. Regardless of appetites, Spectrum Retirement serves up generous portions of independence, productivity, accomplishment, and purpose every day. The focus is on what’s possible, for every resident.