The significance of activity-based stimulation for those with dementia

Just as our body recognises that it is supposed to move, our brain too expects to receive stimulation. Joint movement and mind stimulus often go hand-in-hand; the more we move—the more engaged our brain becomes, and the more involved our brain—the greater our desire for movement. This body-mind link is no different for those with dementia and remains critical to wellbeing.

Physical activity positively impacts the joints by easing joint stiffness, reducing joint pain, and by strengthening the muscles that surround our joints. Mental stimulus has been proven to keep us alert, reduce anxiety, and can help in reducing sleep disturbance. Combining both physical activity and mental stimulus is paramount to overall wellness and can sometimes slow the progression of dementia

There are more than 400 different types of dementia, and their prevalence is on the rise. The most common, and consequently, best understood are Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia. As the disease progresses, professional caregiving—beyond that of families—becomes the most practical solution to the increasing needs of a person with dementia, but how important is it for a person with dementia to continue their engagement with activities and Cognitively Challenging Tasks (CCT)?

Everyday activities can be categorised as planned or unplanned, social or emotional, and range from outings, to exercise, to CCT. Skills needed for daily-living might also be considered an activity, such as preparing food, clearing the table, folding napkins, watering the plants, or talking about your day while sharing a cup of tea. Participation in these activities is crucial in keeping the mind of a person with dementia engaged.

Tailoring activities to the individual is critical to enjoyment—Some individuals with dementia can easily find themselves overstimulated by noise, crowds, and constant movement. It is essential to be mindful of a person’s needs and their anxiety triggers, consequently being selective with outings and activities. Someone that has always enjoyed the garden may be happiest planting up vegetables, while an ex-office worker may find peace organising papers or with access to a computer, or a mechanic might be in their element sorting through nuts and bolts. Others might simply enjoy watching sport, taking a walk, or immersing themselves in arts and crafts.

Ixworth Court Dementia Care supports this approach to individuality, allowing our residents to live a life that closely reflects the one that they were used to. We recognise and celebrate person-specific interests and abilities while being mindful of changes in capability as a person moves through the dementia stages.

Studies into dementia evidence that many people affected by the disease often retain their ability and desire for both movement and rhythm—an excellent opportunity for dementia care homes to organise activities that encompass dance, exercise, and music from their generation. Such activities promote movement, engagement, and can encourage positive feelings. It can be helpful to explore and implement activities that enable an individual to build on remaining skills and talents for enjoyment instead of achievement.

Monica Heltemes—Owner of MindStart Dementia Activities and Occupational Therapist (OT)—once said, ‘Lose your preconceived notions about how the activity should be done or what the end product might be, as people in the middle and late stage of dementia are not capable of understanding the goal of an activity’. We think this is great advice, and we operate with an emphasis on the enjoyment of a hobby or pursuit.

Helpful considerations when planning activities:

  • Digital devices such as tablets or smartphones are great tools—they can be used to support social connection through the likes of Skype and YouTube. Explore dedicated dementia apps for support with games, puzzles, and other activities
  • People with limited mobility can get active too—exercises can be done sitting down. Pom-poms or colurful scarves can be incorporated to encourage the moving of hands, arms, shoulders, head, legs, and feet
  • Consider water-based exercise if suitable—water-buoyancy lowers the impact on joints while still providing enough resistance to keep joints flexible and help maintain muscle.
  • Encourage residents to help with running the home—cooking, cleaning, and tidying away can help increase a person’s sense of purpose
  • Inspire family to help create a memory bag—memory bags filled with pictures, curios, scented soaps, and anything that holds a strong memory for the person with dementia will help enable them to remember the things they love

There are endless activities that care homes can consider for their residents, and we are happy to share with others what has worked well for us, given the individual needs and abilities of our residents. Ixworth Court Dementia Care home use Able2B—a not-for-profit organisation that provides fitness opportunities to people with limitations. COVID-19-led isolation has seen Rachael Hutchinson—Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, and Jon Thaxton—retired professional boxer and personal trainer offering free, daily, Zoom-adapted classes via Able2B@Home, targeted at people in care homes.

The classes offer our residents something different—they provide an opportunity for expertly adapted exercise while providing a sense of community spirit. They bring care homes across the UK together. You can find out more at These classes have been the catalyst for Edith, a resident at Ixworth Court, to leave her wheelchair and find her confidence in walking again. Together, we can keep our bodies and minds active and maximise individual wellbeing.

You can contact us at or call us on 01603 618111