Expert tips on activities for those living with dementia

Expert tips on activities for those living with dementia
Dr Lina Ma (centre) with a patient.
PHOTO: Expert tips on activities for those living with dementia

SINGAPORE - People become more forgetful as they get older, but that does not mean that they have dementia.

This is a condition which robs a person of his memory and ability to think, such that it affects his daily life.

Around 28,000 Singaporeans aged 60 and above have dementia, and the number is projected to hit 80,000 by 2030, in line with the greying population.

While dementia cannot be cured, there is evidence that medical care and meaningful activities can help these patients, said Dr Lina Ma, deputy executive director of Lions Home for the Elders.

Some patients may be unable to indicate their preference of activities, so caregivers should observe their non-verbal cues, she advised.

Dr Ma gives some tips on the activities that can be planned for those living with dementia.

1. Sensory discrimination games

Prepare "smelling" bowls with ingredients familiar to the patient, such as vinegar or cinnamon sticks, before covering each bowl with a lid.

Lift the lid a little to allow the patient to smell and identify the item without looking at it. This could help stimulate their long-term memories.

2. Fine-motor activities

Develop patients' hand-eye coordination by getting them to string beads of different colours and forms together, or line up clothes pegs on the edge of a biscuit tin.

These activities, however, can be difficult for those who also have arthritis, stroke-related disabilities or problems with their vision.

3. Matching activities

Putting two similar items together is an important way of discerning order in the world.

Caregivers can place cards face-down on a table and get patients to turn them over, two at a time, with the aim of recalling the positions of similar cards to match them. Patients can also tinker with shape sorters.

4. Life journal

Use photos, objects or music to trigger patients' memories and get them to narrate life events, such as their wedding day. The information can be recorded by caregivers and made into a scrapbook, which can then be shared with family members.

It does not matter how much the patient is able to recall. It is more important that he finds the activity stimulating and enjoyable.

Joan Chew

Background Story

Brought to you by Lions Home for the Elders as part of the Care to go Beyond campaign. For more information, go to

People with dementia do not necessarily die from dementia, but will always die with it. It may be anything from two to 20 years.

Dr Lina Ma, who has a PhD in Quality of Life for Older Adults in Singapore

This article was first published on September 4, 2014.
Get a copy of Mind Your Body, The Straits Times or go to for more stories.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.