Posts Tagged activities for men with dementia

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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Sort Baseball Cards

Photo courtesy of

Baseball cards are one of those fun items from our childhood that some of us never stop enjoying.  For a gentleman (or lady, of course) with Alzheimer’s disease, sorting cards is not only a soothing, rewarding activity and way to reminisce,  it might also be a way to riches if you find the right card!   Collectors in the early stages of the disease may find pleasure in just rummaging through old shoeboxes, placing cards in special sleeves designed to help preserve the cards, or even doing some research online on the value of the cards.

Those in the moderate stages may find just sorting and re-sorting them fun.  You can group them by year, by team, by your “favorites”  your “dream team” or any other combination you can think of.  If you’re worried about damaging valuable cards, just have someone knowledge pick those ones out first.  If you don’t already have some old cards lying around, don’t worry; they are frequently sold at garage sales. 

Those in the severe stages might like just holding the cards and reminiscing about favorite players, maybe their own experiences in little league, or going to watch a pro team.  Maybe you’ll help jog their memory by singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and eating peanuts and popcorn!




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Play Lawn Darts

photo courtesy of mastermind toys

Let me start this off by saying I do not think it is smart for anyone of any age or cognitive status to play with the old, pointy version of lawn darts.  I say this not only because I don’t want you to sue me, but also because I had the pleasure of watching one skewer my uncle’s foot in what was obviously a very memorable family reunion.

That lovely story out of the way, down to business.  Lawn darks is kind of mix of horseshoes and regular darts.  Individuals take turns throwing darts into the ring, with points awarded based on where the land.  Traditionally, points are scored when a dart lands in the target area. If both players get a dart in the ring , the scores cancel each other.  However, there are other versions, which are summed up nicely by this Wikipedia article, so I won’t bore you with my rambling summary.   It also informed me that the pointy, terrifying lawn darts of the past are no longer for sale in the US or Canada.  Now, lawn darts generally have weighted, rounded tips instead.

In any case, lawn darts is a game that can be enjoyed by anyone who can still throw underhand, which is stay just about anyone.  Even those in the severe stages of dementia should still be able to throw the dart, though they may need the target moved closer or someone to help guide their hand through the motion until a few times until their long-term “muscle memory” is triggered. 






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Play Velcro Catch


Velcro catch is exactly what it sounds and looks like.  You and your partner both strap a disc on your non-dominant hand (the one you would wear a baseball glove on) and take turns throwing the ball at each other,”catching” it with the disc.  The disc is covered with the hook part of hook and loop tape (aka velcro) and the fuzz on the tennis ball sticks easily.

This is a nice variation on regular catch because

1. “catching” is easier because you just have to move your hand in the bath of the ball, eliminating the need to close your hand quickly, which can be hard as motor speed decreases. 

2.  The disc is much lighter than a mit, and stays secure on your hand with a strap on the back. 

3. The bright ball makes it easier to track in the air the air than a white baseball. 

4. The ball is lightweight and therefore can’t go as far, making it easier to retrieve any wild pitches. 

For those in the severe stages of the disease, they may only be able to throw or catch the ball, and that’s okay.  If they are having trouble catching, simply had someone help guide their hand into the path of the ball.  If they can only throw, simply hand them the ball and let them be the pitcher and you the catcher. 


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Play Ladder Golf

photo courtesy of

Ladder Golf, also known as Ladder Ball, is a fun, relaxing game for people of all ages and athletic-ability levels, making it perfect for people with memory loss.  The basic premise is to throw the bola (a fancy name for two golf balls held together by a piece of rope) onto the ladder.  Each level of the ladder, has a different number of points assigned to it: three for the top, two for the middle, and one for the bottom.

Traditionally, you have to get EXACTLY 21 points to win, but I generally play to whoever get 21 points or more.  You can also just play a certain number of rounds.  There are generally two teams, but you could certainly play with more.  Those in the early stages of the disease will likely catch on pretty quickly.  Those in the moderate stages of the disease might need more reminders of the rules and benefit from a teammate who can help them.   Those in the late stages of the disease may simply need to be instructed to throw the bola at the target, or even have some hand-over-hand assistance when throwing, but might still enjoy the fresh air and camaraderie.

Oh, and if you’re interested, you can purchase a game set online or in any local toy or big box store.  For the really ambitious, there are even instructions on how to build your own game set available online!





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Go Fishing


Fishing is a favorite pastime for many, making it a fun way to relive the past and provides ample opportunity for reminiscing about the past.  You or the person with memory loss may still have access to a favorite fishing hole.  if not, that’s fine too. There are plenty fo places to fish in metro Detroit, including Belle Isle, the Riverwalk downtown (I hear the best place to go is between Cobo of Joe Louis), Kensington, etc.  Don’t forget to buy your fishing license, which can be done online here. For more information on where to go and what you might catch, you can access the DNR’s weekly fishing report for lots of helpful tips.

Don’t forget the general rule about memory loss: things that are familiar and stored in long-term memory are easier to access than anything new, so don’t go out and buy a brand new fishing pole.  If possible, use the one the person with dementia has always used, or if that’s not available, something similar.  If they’ve never fly fished, maybe now it’s the time to start.  In short, remember the old adage K.I.S.S.- Keep it simple, stupid! 

Also, don’t be afraid to break the task down into smaller steps.  Placing the worm on the hook might be all the person can do, so put them in charge of that task while you cast.  Or, conversely, they might struggle with changing a lure and casting, but be the best at reeling in the big one. Give yourself permission to help when needed, but also remember to back off and see if they can take over once you’ve gotten past a rough patch. And, if physically fishing is too hard/frustrating, they might just enjoy sitting and chatting about past catches and ones-that-got-away while you mine the reel. 



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