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Lifestyle & General Interest

Memory Care Activities for Older Adults


Memory issues are a major concern for older adults. Worldwide, 55 million people live with dementia. As many as 10 million new cases develop every year. In the U.S. alone, more than six million people live with Alzheimer’s disease.

Despite widespread research, these are not reversible conditions. However, older adults who remain physically and mentally active have a lower risk of developing these conditions and may slow the progression if they do develop.

While exercise, diet, and an overall healthy lifestyle are essential to avoiding cognitive decline, both social and mental activities are also important. Here is a look at 10 memory care activities that help lower the risk or slow the onset of cognitive diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Arts and Crafts

Art projects can provide a creative outlet for people with memory issues. These projects bring a sense of accomplishment and purpose and require concentration and attention to detail. They do not need to be complex. They can rely on basic materials, but they should not be the type of activities one might do with children, which older adults might find demeaning.

Craft options could include:

  • Watercolor painting;
  • Oil painting;
  • Drawing;
  • Adult-level paint or color by numbers;
  • Collages;
  • Beadwork;
  • Paper flowers or other cutouts;
  • Birdhouses;
  • Windchimes or dreamcatchers.

If you are organizing these activities, you should make sure they are accessible to older adults. For example, if you have a beadwork project, you should avoid using very small beads that could be difficult to see and handle.

Go Outside

Studies have linked the overall health of older adults and time spent outdoors. Activities such as traveling or simply taking a stroll in the local part can provide benefits, such as improved outlook and cognitive functions.

Outdoor activities can take many different forms, such as:

  • Birdwatching;
  • Walking in local parks;
  • Gardening;
  • Picking flowers;
  • Taking a hike on a local trail using maps or GPS;
  • Fishing.

For many older adults, outdoor activities require overcoming mobility issues. With the correct equipment, however, the outdoors are accessible to anyone. A wheelchair lift or portable ramp for a vehicle can ensure that anyone can access nature and get the mood and memory benefits of spending time in the great outdoors.

Engage in Physical Activity

Physical activity is essential for a healthy lifestyle, and it can play an important role in maintaining cognitive abilities. Studies have shown that physical activities, such as balance exercises, can reduce the risk of developing cognitive impairments like dementia by as much as 30%.

These physical activities should be accessible and repeatable, like:

  • Walking;
  • Chair yoga or calisthenics;
  • Balance exercises;
  • Stretching;
  • Low-impact cardio exercises like water aerobics;
  • Pickleball or other racket sports;
  • Lawn games;
  • Dance classes.

Physical activities should always be both accessible and enjoyable for the participants so that they will want to repeat them again and again, solidifying the cognitive and physical benefits.

Interact With Animals

Pets can actually positively impact health. Studies show that people who interact with animals experience a variety of positive things.

Pets also require that owners remain engaged and alert to the needs of their animals, which may help improve or maintain cognitive function.


Knitting is a task that requires concentration and repetitive movements. It brings about a variety of surprising benefits for older adults. In addition to helping practitioners avoid mood disorders, knitting helps reduce pain from common age-related issues like arthritis.

Here are some of the additional benefits of knitting:

  • The repetitive motions can build muscle memory and hand-eye coordination, which often suffer as people age.
  • The concentration and planning for knitting projects help improve cognitive functions.
  • The activity can also reduce stress and distract people from pain or discomfort.

Knitting is a learned skill. It is something that people can learn at any point in their lives with basic tools and materials — yarn and knitting needles. It does not require special physical abilities, and most people can become good on their own in 40 to 80 hours or so of practice.

Make a Memory Box

Memory boxes can serve as reminders of the past for people with memory issues. These projects require you to remember past life experiences and find ways to represent them so that your future self remembers.

Here is what you might wish to include in a memory box:

  • Photos;
  • Letters;
  • Notebooks containing your present thoughts or insights;
  • Recordings of your favorite music;
  • Voice recordings or videos of yourself or loved ones;
  • Keepsakes.

Studies have also shown that these projects help older adults and their professional caregivers develop closer relationships. They can foster a connection with health aides in an assisted living facility or those supporting them as they age in place.


Jigsaw puzzles are an accessible and familiar activity. Researchers have found that working on these puzzles can help people keep their minds active and tap into multiple parts of the brain.

When completing a puzzle, you need to rely on memory, problem-solving, attention to detail, and recognition of patterns of shapes and colors.

Recreate a Favorite Recipe

Cooking is an important aspect of self-care for older adults who want to remain in their homes. Dietary needs, mobility issues, and memory problems can make cooking challenging. However, the process can be very beneficial because it requires activating the senses, concentrating, and engaging fully with the task.

Recreating a favorite recipe can trigger positive memories while also engaging the mind. Meanwhile, creating new recipes based on current dietary needs can help memory-care patients retain a sense of independence and gain confidence in their ability to do things for themselves.

Sing, Write, or Listen to Music

Music can be an effective tool for engaging with memory care patients. It can elicit a response and increase the production of mood-enhancing hormones like melatonin and serotonin. In other words, the mind naturally responds to music.

Here are some types of musical activities that help with cognitive engagement:

  • Listening to familiar songs;
  • Singing;
  • Playing a musical instrument;
  • Using a computer program or electric keyboard to create and combine sounds;
  • Writing music.

People who listen to music they heard in the past, such as songs popular during their youth, may be able to recall other memories from the past that they associate with the songs.

Watch a Favorite Movie or Show

Researchers found that people who watch old TV shows, such as series from their youth, can recall other memories from the era when the program originally aired. This spontaneous recall can lead to a string of memories of past times.

All these activities can help protect against cognitive decline, slow its progress, or help dementia or Alzheimer’s patients recall memories from their past and engage more actively in the present time.

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