Posts Tagged activities for men with dementia

Screw Nuts on Bolts


This is nice activity for men in the middle to late stages of memory loss who used to enjoy tinkering in the garage. I stole the picture from a parenting blog, What do you do all day?. She mentioned using different sized nuts and bolts, but you could certainly make them all the same size if you think different sizes would be frustrating for the person with memory loss. I also like that she superglued the head of the bolts to the board so they don’t get lost/fall out.

If you’re feel super crafty and/or just really don’t want to lose the nut, you can make a nut and bolt fidget “toy” like the one below (I would put the nut in the center section rather than the end to avoid losing it). It’s intended to just be a riddle, basically a “How did you do that” but I think spinning the nut on the bolt could be a fun, soothing activity for a former carpenter.

bolt puzzle

Watch a video on how to make your own here. Simply substitute a bolt and nut for the nail they use in the video.

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Play with a Remote Control Car

remote control car

What’s more fun then racing remote control, cars? Nothing. That’s what. So grab one and get racing. What? You need more of a reason than that? This isn’t a real post, you say? Fine. Remote control cars are great for people with memory loss. Those in the early stage can operate fairly complex ones, with a little practice, with those in the more moderate stages can enjoy those with simpler controls, like the one from Brookstone, above, or this “flipable” one from Tonka, below.

flip car

If the person likes, you can even take them to one of many remote control car tracks located all around the country, which you can search for here. Of course, you can also just drive through the house or the yard, or buy two and race your friends and family!

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Tend a Garden


Gardening is a great way to spend a nice sunny day (as long as it’s not too hot) and luckily it doesn’t rely on a whole lot of memory to enjoy. You can involve the person with memory loss as much or as little as they like/their cognition will allow. Someone in the early stages might enjoy the autonomy and creativity of planning a new garden bed and tending it by themselves. It might help to label each plant so they can help tell the plants from the weeds. It might not be bad idea to including watering information, too!

Those in the middle stages can help dig holes, plant seeds/starter plants, and water the plants. Weeding is another time-consuming, repetitive activity that can suit those in the middle stages of the disease quite well, just be sure to supervise to ensure that the garden’s plants are removed along with the weeds! Sitting and/or stooping can be hard on aging backs, but rolling lawn stool, such as the one below, can help ease the pain.

garden roller stool

Those in the late stages might enjoy just sitting and enjoying the sights and sounds. Give them a plant or flower to smell and touch to stimulate their senses. Of course, if it’s a vegetable garden, don’t forget to give them a taste as well! And don’t forget to describe what you’re doing in the garden as you do it so they feel involved.

Finally, gardening is a great way to start reminiscing with a person with memory loss. You can ask about if they gardened in the past, and if so, what they liked to grow, what they had good luck with, what they never could get to grow, etc. You might ask if there family had a victory garden during the war, what types of flowers or vegetables are their favorite, etc. The possibilities really are limitless!

Common sense reminders:
1. Don’t forget sunscreen
2. Don’t forget to drink lots of fluids. Older adults are at greater risk of dehydration and those with dementia may not be able to sense or express a feeling of thirst.
3. Never leave someone at risk for wandering outside unsupervised
4. Make sure any gardening tasks aren’t too physically demanding for the individual (psst! They now make garden tools for those with arthritis/weak upper bodies. You can find these ergonomic tools at most garden centers or online, just search “garden tools for arthritis.” But be warned, because they may look different from a normal garden tool, the person with memory loss may have more difficulty using them than a more familiar-looking version of the same tool.)
5. Have fun!

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Watch an Ant Farm


Ant farms were “invented/introduced” to pop-culture in the late 1920s, but were a popular toy well into the 60s and 70s. Therefore, while not let the person with memory loss relive and remember some of the fun they might have had as a child with a new one to watch and tend! No longer just filled with sand or soil, you can now buy an ant farm with a space-age gel that the ants can not only tunnel in, but eat! No matter what type you buy, a “retro” version or a newer model, they are pretty low maintenance, but can provide you with hours of entertainment as you watch them build tunnels, carry food, and live life as a colony. This activity might be particularly familiar with men, as little boys were a main target of media advertising during the ant farm renaissance. However, anyone not afraid of bugs can enjoy this quiet, relaxing activity.

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Build with Blocks


Building with blocks can be a very fun activity, to the right person. People in the more moderate to severe stages of the disease, who aren’t concerned about an activity seeming “childish” anymore are obvious candidates. So are people who had a lifelong interest in building things or working with their hands. If there are young children in the person’s life, having them play with the person with memory loss might make introducing this activity more “acceptable” to someone who’s hesitant to participate at first.

There are lots of types of blocks to choose from, anything from the simple wooden blocks at the beginning of this post, to classic Lincoln Logs:

lincoln logs

You can find fancy architectural sets, such as the Taj Mahhal, the Colosseum, or the Parthenon, pictured below (warning, these sets are better for those in the earlier stages of the disease or strong visual-spatial skills):


Or, they even make wooden blocks with magnetic cores (as seen below), to help them stick together. These are a great option for people who might have tremors are therefore more likely to knock the structure down, or have more significant dementia and therefore might build an unsteadier structure.

magnetic blocks

On a final note, no matter what type of blocks you use, make sure the focus stays on the fun of the process, not the end product.

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Play Marbles


Marbles is a fun game from childhood that should be well-preserved in a person with memory loss’ long term memory. There are lots of ways to play, but the classic game of “Ringer” is probably best known, so I’ll describe it here for those of you who may not have played before. However, be warned: always ask the person with memory loss what rules the remember and use those if possible. It’s much easier for a caregiver to remember those rules than for someone with memory loss to adapt to new ones!

How to play Ringer
1. Draw a circle at least 2 to 3 feet wide on a table (painter’s tape works well) or the floor, depending on how spry you’re feeling. Note: The larger the circle, the harder the game.
2. Place 13 marbles in an “x” shape inside the circle with each marble about 3 inches apart.
3. Select your shooter (a marble larger than the ones inside the circle).
4. Each player takes turns trying to “flick” their shooter with their thumb from outside the ring at any marble(s) or marbles inside the ring.
5. Gather any marbles you’ve knocked out of the ring.
6. If you got any marbles out of the ring AND your shooter Shooter ends up outside of the ring, you get to shoot again. Otherwise, it’s the next player’s turn. (If your shooter doesn’t leave the ring, take it out before the next players goes).
7. Continue taking turns until the ring is empty.
8. Whoever knocks the most marbles out of the ring, wins!

Alternate ways to play Ringer and other marbles games can be found at

The game can be modified to be easier/harder by making the circle bigger or smaller, or changing the rules of play to make sure everyone gets at least a few turns. People in the later stages of the disease might do well on a team, helping to choose which marble to target when shooting, or being the referee/counter at the end of the game. Even just handling the marbles and admiring their different colors and patterns can be fun. Of course, this is also a great activity for reminiscing. Ask questions like, “Who did you play marbles with?”, “Did you have a favorite marble? What did it look like?” or “Did you play for ‘keeps’?” to help get the conversation going.

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Use a Nut Cracker

Confession time.  This weekend was the first time in my life I have ever used a nut cracker. I feel like I’ve been deprived my whole life.  It’s was amazingly fun.  So much so that even when I was tired of eating nuts, I kept cracking them and feeding them to my amused, then annoyed, then angry relatives.  So, with that disclosure in place, here comes the rest of this post.

Cracking nuts may be a long-term memory for those with memory loss, which is perfect.  Or, it might be a new skill/hobby, but it’s ease makes it a snap to do, even with no previous experience.  Either way, you can’t lose.  It’s repetitive, which is great for those who get lost with multi-step tasks.  It’s delicious (just make sure the person with memory loss is stable able to tell shells from nuts).  It’s useful (if you make cookies with nuts, why not let the person with memory loss help by shelling them by hand rather than buying them pre-shelled?).  In short, cracking nuts/using a nut cracker is a pretty ideal activity for those with memory loss.  It’s even seasonal, so that’s a bonus.

Using a traditional cracker may be hard for those with arthritis/a weak grip, but there are lots of different version you could try.  Just type “nut cracker” into google and you’ll be amazed and all the different ways to get the meat out of the hull!



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Write a Soldier


Most of us can agree that no matter you political affiliation or thoughts on the war, soldiers have a hard job that requires lots of sacrifice.  To help boost their morale, many organizations, such as those listed below, organize letter writing campaigns to let them know people stateside are thinking of them and appreciate the hard job they do.  Writing to our service men and women is a great activity for those in the early or middle stages of the disease because

1. it feels great to be able to give to others, no matter what your cognitive status

2. those who have lived through past wars, either as a solider or someone waiting anxiously back home know how much a letter can mean to a deployed or wounded solider

3. veteran’s might find reminiscing about their experience in the war is an easy topic to write about

4. the letter’s recipient won’t know if the memories shared are true or false or be bored if they’ve been told 1,000 times before

5. you can write as little or as much as you like, meaning those in the middle stages might just write or dictate a quick “thank you” and sign their name to a card, while those in the early stages can write as many pages as they like


Here is a list of some organizations that facilitate letter writing to soldiers.  One even has a program in which you can write veterans of past wars thanking them for their service.  This might be a nice option for those with strong memories of past wars who want to connect with others that served during that time.  Each site gives suggestions on what to write, so don’t let writer’s block stand in your way! Send letters and/or care packages Send letters to currently deployed soliders, wounded soliders, and veterans Send an online letter to a solider letter writting and other “teams” to support soldiers


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Play with an Invisible Ink Book

These “invisible ink” activity books used to be all the rage. I distinctly remember going to F&M or the drug store with my mom every Sunday and picking out two of these books: one for me, and one for my grandmother.  I liked the ones featuring pictures and mazes you on covered with the decoding pen, while Grandma usually requested the trivia or mystery version (as seen above).  The basic premises of the book is this: invisible ink is used to print parts of pictures or text in the book and you use the provided “decoder pen” to  uncover the invisible picture or text revealing answers to questions printed in regular ink or completing missing parts of pictures.

Why are these good for people with memory loss?

1. They are super fun.  I don’t know what it is, but there is something very satisfying and exciting about revealing the invisible words.

2.  They come in a variety of forms, from picture completion; trivia (where the answers are invisible); games such as connect-the-dots, hangman, tic-tac-toe, and battleship;  “coloring”; and mysteries.  This variety is great not only as a way to appeal to those with differing interests, but also to those of differing ability levels.  Those in the early stages might find the trivia or mysteries more fun with the “big reveal” provided by the decoder pen.  Those in the moderate stages might like that the mazes are “fail-proof” because as they trace their way through the maze, if they make a wrong turn, they’ll know it right away because the decoder pen will stop revealing the path out, cueing them to go back and try a different route.  They may also like the familiar, simple games.  Those in the late stages might enjoy “painting” pictures (all they have to do is scribble on the picture with the decoder pen to reveal.  The decoder pen will reveal the colors in the black and white outlines).

3.  They are designed to be used by one person, meaning the person with memory loss can play games (even usually two-player games like tic-tac-toe) by  themselves.

4. No mess!  The decoder pen is completely clear, so even if you color off the page, nothing is ruined!

5. They travel really well, making them great for waiting at doctor’s appointments, while traveling, etc.

6. They’re inexpensive.

7. They come in “manly” varieties, which not all crafty/activity kits do.

 “manly” options

They are admittedly harder to find now than they used to be (but then again, so is F&M.  I wonder what happened to that store….), but you can sometimes find them at bookstores, kid’s toy/book sections of big box stores, and, of course, online. For the latter, just type “invisible ink books” into your favorite search engine and you’ll get tons of results.

Good luck and happy de-coding/revealing!





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Rake Leaves

This activity not only takes advantage of a person’s long term memory and desire to be helpful, both of which are well-preserved even into the more moderate stages of the disease, it also is a great way to get out and enjoy the last of the nice weather.  Grab a rake and start making piles or stuff them into decorate bags such as this

If raking is too physically challenging for the person with memory loss, why not have them supervise and join everyone for cider and doughnuts when the job is done?

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