Activity Ideas: Visiting Someone with Late-Stage Dementia

It is often difficult to visit someone who has late-stage dementia because it may seem difficult to connect with them.  

As dementia progresses, expectation for conversation lowers but that doesn't mean they can't engage. People who have late-stage dementia love the one-on-one social connection of a visit. It doesn't really matter which activity you decide to do with them, it’s the mood and feelings you promote that will affect them the most. 

The emotions promoted during your visit will carry through the rest of the day. We once had a patron bring her nonverbal late-stage father to a Library for All. He didn't seem very engaged during the program, but his daughter let us know he fell asleep that night with a smile on his face because he had a wonderful time visiting the library. No matter what you do with your loved one, you can impact how they feel and those emotions will stay with them through the day.

The most important thing to remember is people who live with dementia are still capable of feeling love and happiness, and they may still enjoy chatting, reading and being creative. Approach everything from an "in the moment" perspective and they will join you!

Here are a few activity ideas to jump-start your visit:

  • Bring their favorite poetry to read out loud, or humorous short poetry for adults like I Could Chew on This by Francesco Marciuliano. 
  • Borrow some adult picture books or photography/coffee table books from the library. The pictures are professional and written for an adult audience. When we visit people in the community who have dementia, we do not give them children's picture books because it can come across as  demeaning and condescending. A person with dementia is still able to tell if they are not being treated with respect, so we suggest bringing books that are written for adults.
  • Play music from the era of their teens and early adulthood. Your person might not be verbal at this stage, but they can often sing along to their favorite songs. Learn more about music and dementia. 
  • Sing songs together. Sing popular/traditional songs such as "Oh Susanna" or "You are My Sunshine." Print out the lyrics if you have trouble remembering them, or bring a smart device to search for lyrics on the spot! 
  • Take a walk outside if the weather is appropriate and marvel at the flowers, trees and people walking by. 
  • Fidget quilts are good to keep busy hands occupied. There are many for sale on the Internet, or you can get creative and make one yourself! 
  • For a multisensory activity, make and bring a sensory box. A sensory box has multiple items collected around a theme that stimulates the senses. For example: a box filled with different types of rubber balls, or a cooking tray with Kinetic sand and molding utensils.  
  • Check out one of our Caregiver Kits and bring it with you when you visit. Each kit contains an activity idea book, an adult picture book, a puzzle, a game that is appropriate for memory loss, appropriate entertainment DVDs and a caregiver resource. 

Just remember, if you have a good time, they will most likely have a good time too! 

A meaningful goodbye ends the visit on a positive note. Take a look at Deborah's blog Visiting Someone With Dementia to help prepare you for a visit and for helpful communication tips for all stages of dementia. 

Ask a Librarian to find out more! Our older adult services librarians spend a lot of time visiting community members who have dementia.