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The Benefits of Small Group Activities for Dementia Patients

Most care professionals agree, and studies support, that small group programming is more effective for people with dementia than large group activities. Unfortunately the reality of limited resources in a facility mean that while everyone recognizes the benefits of providing activities for small groups, more residents can be reached through larger activities and those tend to dominate the monthly schedule.

Small Group Activities

Here’s a way to start adding simple, short, small group activities for your dementia patients into your schedule and take advantage of the benefits without taking up too much time. In fact, by building these activities into an established routine, they can be taken over by other staff or volunteers. These activities take no more than 15 to 20 minutes. They require little preparation, are simple to do and easy to present. Portering requirements are minimal because the activity is done on the unit with only a few residents, ideally those that are already out of their rooms and ready to participate.

So how to get started?

First, pick the unit, day of week, time and an activity that works with the flow on the unit (refer to the activity ideas at the end of this article). Here are some things to consider when choosing an activity

  • If the only exercise activities that are currently taking place are done in large groups, then exercise would be a good place to start
  • To a certain extent, the time of day dictates which activity is appropriate. If you are going to schedule an exercise activity, for example, it makes sense to choose a morning time-slot because residents tend to have more energy in the morning. Creative activities may be more appropriate in the early afternoon because people tend to be more relaxed after lunch.
Getting Started With Small Group Programming
  • Choose an appropriate group activity for your dementia residents
  • Choose a day and time to present the activity on the unit
  • Put the activity into the calendar for that day and time each week
  • Go to the unit at the scheduled time and do the activity with up to six residents
  • Repeat the activity each week so that it becomes routine
  • Train a volunteer or staff member to lead the activity once the routine is established
  • Repeat the process with a different activity at a different day and time

Once the activity, day and time have been chosen, put it in the calendar for the next month – the same day and time each week. When the day arrives, show up at the appropriate time and find anywhere from one to six residents to participate. Choose residents who are already out of their rooms - the first time there may not be that many participants, but as the routine builds that will change. Staff will anticipate the activity and encourage the residents to join in. Finally, once the routine is established you can introduce other staff or volunteers to help lead the activity and soon they will be able to take it over, freeing up your time to move on and start the process again with a different activity at a different day and time (or on a different unit).

The goal is to have several small group activities a day scheduled in each unit. These frequent, short periods of engagement that are not overwhelming lead to a better quality of life for the residents. You will find that by establishing the activities and then utilizing volunteers and other staff to carry them forward, what may seem impossible is actually doable. The "Group Activities in a Facility and Montessori Principles" article provides more information about applying Montessori principles for dementia to group activities.

Some Suggested Small Group Activities for Dementia

Exercise Activities
  • Bean bag toss
  • Parachute
  • Chair exercise/stretching
  • Balloon volleyball
  • Basketball
  • Bowling
Cognitive Activities
  • Reading groups
  • Expressions Bingo
  • Add 'Em Up Dice
  • Rhyming Expressions
  • Trivia
Creative Activities
  • Painting
  • WaterDoodle
  • ColorConnect
  • Flower arranging
  • Poetry
  • Music
Chores
  • Polishing silver
  • Polishing shoes
  • Sorting decks of cards
  • Washing dishes
  • Folding laundry
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