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5 ideas for Group Activities

Whenever I visit online forums about dementia care and activities I frequently read posts from my fellow activity coordinators asking for ideas about group activities, so today I would like to share a few ideas of my own.These ideas come from my own experiences so take only what works for you!

Designing and planning suitable group activities for people who live with dementia can be challenging, though they can be extremely beneficial for the people taking part. Group activities can support strong feelings of inclusion, communication, socialization, accomplishment, reminiscence and joy… and all of these feelings can encourage emotional and physical well-being for someone who is living with dementia… in fact group activities are vital to all our well-being; as we all need to feel part of something and that we belong!

To begin with I feel its important that we encourage the people taking part to have a sense of ownership towards their activities, and we can do this at the beginning of an activity by asking people if they’d like to and how they’d like to join in, by supporting their decision on what type of activity they would like to do and how it evolves. Even if someone is in the later stages of dementia and can no longer use verbal communication the provision of choice should still be available to them; when people feel involved and included the activity can become more meaningful to them.

My daughter recently started secondary school, and regularly brings home piles of homework. She’s not pleased with this as doing it cuts into her precious free time! But it has to be done; her goal is to finish by tea time. Identifying and achieving goals is ingrained in us from an early age, it eventually becomes second nature, in fact setting healthy goals is good as they can help to motivate us! Though whenever I plan and design activities I never have specific goals for the people taking part. I see the activities as the ‘tools’ available to achieve aims rather than goals. Setting goals for people who are experiencing a profound cognitive decline can be detrimental to them and could lead to feelings of failure … and that’s the opposite of what we we’re hoping to achieve! If someone doesn’t finish their painting, won’t sing along, looses interest in the story half way through, falls asleep or just wants to watch … well that’s alright! My goals are to provide suitable activities and my aims for them are to encourage mental stimulation, socialization, communication, to identify their skills and promote them, to recognise their emotions during the activity and look for ways to support their individuality …and also to find subtle moments to challenge them throughout the process!

Before I begin any group activity I like to start with some warm up exercises … these exercises can create feelings of a happy relaxed atmosphere where people are acknowledged and may feel inclined to join in … its the making of a community! Some warm up exercises could begin by greeting each person individually, by using their name and offering my hand saying hello and thanking them for coming or by singing a chosen group song. These beginning actions are important and can set the tone of the activity! Remember I began by mentioning inclusion and socialization … the bringing together of a group. I’ve tried to include different activities for people with individual skill sets, so there are various levels of challenge available

1.Table top football … this is a great group activity; the aims of this activity are movement, exercise, spatial awareness, social interaction, communication and as the ball rolls off the table lots of laughter!

  • Have a table large enough for your group to sit round.

  • Use a large soft ball and ask members to roll it towards someone opposite , calling their name as they do it. (Name tags are optional)

  • You can speed up or slow down the activity accordingly.

  • You can use background music during this activity which.

2. A group Collage … This is a creative activity, it’s aims are mental stimulation, orientation, reminiscence and communication. (Though each group member will respond in their own individual way)

  • Everyone sits at a table large enough to work on and with enough space for paper and images. (You could use a roll of lining paper which can be spread across the table allowing everyone access to it)

  • You could use a seasonal or occupational theme for your collage. Offer your group some choices and ask them what they would like to do.

  • There are lots of materials you could use … images from magazines, postcards, photos, textured paper, (anything textured is good) leaves, drawings, words.

  • The finished collage is a group effort and represents them! So hang it high for all to see!

3. Storytelling/narratives … This is one of my favourite group activities. It’s aims are to encourage communication, the sharing of feelings and memories. If done regularly it can help to strengthen a group.

  • You can sit people around a table, though I like a semi-circle where everyone can see the board where we’ll be writing our story on (spelling mistakes and all!)

  • Share two images between your group and ask them to choose the one they like the best.

  • Encourage the group to begin a story by asking open-ended questions; for instance “What do you think is happening here?”

  • Write every contribution down for the group to see and base your questions on how the group are responding.

  • Don’t forget to give your story a title; there can be more than one title as this activity encourages and promotes creativity in everyone!

4. Faces and Places … This is a stimulation activity that can encourage shared memories, opinions and can stimulate some wonderful conversations!

  • This one works better with everyone sitting at a table.

  • Pass around some laminated pictures of people or places. Make sure each person has the same pictures. (3 pictures each works well)

  • Ask the group some open-ended questions about the images,( try to keep the questions relaxed with a gentle conversational flow).

  • Base your questions by listening to the groups responses.

  • If the group move onto another topic which has nothing to do with the images go with it, it’s a sign people are being stimulated to converse, share memories and ideas!

5. Team Time! … Games and quizzes can be beneficial in building relationships within a group, not just between group members but with you … you’re part of the group too and it’s important that the group see you as a team player not a ‘leader’. You can adapt this activity to suit the people taking part, though remember to include an element of challenge depending on people’s abilities … they may surprise you!

  • You can divide the group into two teams, ask each group to choose a team name, song etc.

  • I especially enjoy ‘Finish the saying’ or proverb … ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’. Share some unfinished proverbs with both teams and ask them to finish them.

  • Keep a score board to let people see how it’s going, possible ask a group member to write the scores down.

  • You can do a musical ‘name that tune’ quiz or a physical game like skittles or bowls.

  • The aim of this activity is about bringing people together, encouraging team work and importantly fun!

Providing meaningful occupations and activities for people who are living with dementia is vitally important to their well-being. Encouraging creativity and mental stimulation can help to maintain learned skills and develop new ones. I believe this and that’s why I have shared this post today.

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