Activity in dementia as part of the whole day

As a care worker, you have an opportunity to change a routine task into a positive experience, depending on how you approach the person and the activity.

When helping someone to get up in the morning, the following ideas give examples of putting ‘activity’ into ‘care’:

Taking someone out into the garden or involving them with making their own bed should be recorded as a core component of care.

Often, it’s not what you do but the way that you do it that matters most. In one care home the domestic worker takes a puppet around with her as she is doing the dusting which provides lots of moments of fun and interaction.

Look around you

If you are working in a person’s own home, look out for the things that might offer you ideas about what interests that person. A photograph, a piece of furniture or an ornament might all provide starting points for a conversation or an activity such as dusting or polishing.

If you are in a care home, have a look at the lounges and corridors to see what is there to stimulate the senses. An overly tidy environment offers nothing for people to look at, pick up, touch or even tidy themselves.

Stimulating the senses

Over time, as dementia progresses, it is important to think about activities that are less reliant on words and intellect and find things that can stimulate all five key senses. These are: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.

Starting to skip in the middle of the living room with a real skipping rope, for example, is more likely to engage a person with dementia than simply asking them what games they used to play as a child. The skipping rope and the actions are likely to trigger memories much more immediately than using verbal questions.

When planning an activity – whether for an individual or a group – think about having something physical to get the body moving, something mental to engage the brain, and something sensory to stimulate the senses.

Activity and care planning

Care planning usually focuses on physical and clinical aspects of care, and tends to emphasise problems. A good care plan will place as much emphasis on whether someone’s social and emotional needs are being met as on whether a person’s bowels have opened or their medication has been administered.

All staff will need some support and possibly training to recognise that taking someone out into the garden or involving them with making their own bed should be recorded as a core component of care. For care homes, this will also assist when providing evidence of good activity provision to inspecting authorities. Good assessment tools such as the Pool Activity Level (PAL) Instrument and the Cardiff Lifestyle Improvement Profile for People in Extended Residential Care (CLIPPER) can help guide care staff on how to integrate activity elements into personal care tasks.

Become a butterfly: change the moment

The dementia training consultancy Dementia Care Matters promotes the idea of care staff ‘being a butterfly’ as it is possible for a butterfly to change the moment in an instant when it chooses to rest on a flower, if only for a moment. There are many things care staff can do in under a minute that can lift the mood of an individual or a whole room of people, such as:

All too often staff say that they don’t have enough time ‘to do activities’ but if there are lots of care staff providing ‘butterfly moments’, this can really enhance the social interaction levels in a day.


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Available downloads:

  • Activity: Activity as part of the whole day
  • What the research says: Keeping active and occupied