Touching Activities

Touch is one of the most fundamental senses, and gives people a way to engage with a range of different objects that can be either new or familiar to them. Activities that use careful and planned movements can also sometimes be helpful for helping people with dementia to regain motor skills that they may have forgotten.

Feeling different fabrics - includes video

Feeling different fabrics

Tactile activities usually work very well with people with dementia.
Preparation is half of the work (and half of the fun).

The aim is to have different types of textures to feel; these can be fabrics or clothes. These could be your or friends’ clothes or fabrics, or clothes from Op shops, or samples from fabric or curtain shops.

Preparation

Gather a variety of textures (silk, cotton, wool, leather, corduroy, canvas), patterns (stripes, dots, plain) and colours.

Cut approximately A5-sized (half of an A4 sheet of paper) pieces of each fabric (or do this with the person), or use the fabrics/clothes whole.

Put the pieces in a container.

The Activity

  1. Put the container on the table within your reach but outside that of the person.
  2. Take out one piece of fabric and show it to the person.
  3. Show them how to touch and feel the fabric.
  4. Slowly hand the fabric to the person. Observe their response.
  5. When they are ready for the next fabric, invite them to hand the current piece back to you.
    Put it on the side or in another container.
  6. Continue with the next fabric.
  • If the person does not take the fabric from you, gently touch the back of their hands with fabric. Observe their response.
  • Put the container in front of the person and guide their hands to touch the top fabrics.
  • This activity can easily be altered into a sorting activity using the templates associated with Activity 1. You can sort by colours (or dark vs light), textures (soft vs different), or patterns.
  • You may want to patch the different pieces together to make a blanket or just for fun. Give the person two options every time for the next fabric to add to the blanket. Demonstrate all the steps, one after the other.

Alternatives to this Activity

An alternative to this activity is to bring balls of wool for touching, sorting, or knitting or crocheting.
With the knitting, you may end up doing the actual knitting, but the person can assist by feeding you the wool.

Tip: Remember always to demonstrate first. This activity is good for a group.
Everyone can work together to make a blanket or just keep each other company when knitting or doing other handiwork.

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Feeling Different Textures

Feeling different textures

This activity is a mini version of a Men’s Shed. For this activity you will need a variety of objects with different textures. You could look for these at home, from friends, Op shops or ask timber or hardware stores for offcuts.

Preparation

Collect a variety of objects with different textures – different kinds of woods, nuts and bolts, sand paper.

Put the items in a tool box.

The Activity

  1. Put the toolbox on the table within your reach but outside that of the person.
  2. Take out an item and show it to the person.
  3. Show them how to touch and feel the item.
  4. Slowly hand the item to the person. Observe their response.
  5. When they are ready for the next item, invite them to hand the current piece back to you.
    Put it on the side or in another container.
  6. Continue with the next item.
  • If the person does not take the object from you, you could gently touch the back of their hands with the object.
    Observe their response.
  • Put the box in front of the person and guide their hands to touch some of the objects.
  • This can easily be altered into a sorting activity using the templates associated with Activity 1. You could sort by texture (rough vs smooth), temperature (cold vs warm) or size.

You may want to:

  • put some of the materials to use. For example you can screw nuts and bolts together. Present the person with both and demonstrate slowly how you put them together. Hand the next set to them. Continue as long as they enjoy it
  • bring in different lengths of wood; these could then be sorted by length
  • make an item (e.g. a bird-box).
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Pampering

Pampering

This is an activity that many people enjoy, especially if they previously enjoyed dressing up.

You could use a nice smelling massage lotion or their favourite colour nail polish.

Preparation

Bring two different lotions and nail polishes so that the person can choose which to use.

Tip: Be aware that some elderly people have quite brittle skin and may not enjoy a massage.

The Activity

  1. Ask the person which lotion they would like. Smell both lotions. If they don’t make a choice, use whichever one you prefer.
  2. Apply the lotion to the lower arm, using gently stroking movements and see what their
    response is to the touching.
  3. If they like the massage, continue to the hands and fingers and perhaps use more pressure.
  4. Ask if they would like you to massage the other arm and hand.
  5. Ask the person which nail polish they would like applied.
  6. Gently apply polish to their nails.

You may want to:

  • hold the person’s hand, which can be quite reassuring
  • to soak the person’s hands in warm water, if they find this soothing
  • just focus on the hand massage part
  • create a quiet spa-like environment with calming music, a nice aroma and a comfortable chair, and perhaps some wine if it is alright for them to drink
  • bring other kinds of make-up
  • invite the person to give you a hand massage
  • add a pedicure or head massage
  • combine this with the matching shoes and handbags activity (Activity 5). You could also have a couple of dresses for the person to choose from, and prepare the person for an evening out or even a lovely evening at home.
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Fishing Gear

Fishing Gear

This is a good activity for people who have enjoyed fishing.

Preparation

Collect a variety of fishing gear – a rod, different kind of lines, different weights, different hooks. Put everything in a fishing box.

Tip:Be sure to protect the sharper parts with transparent plastic protection.

As with any small object, for persons with more advanced dementia be sure to explain that the objects are not for eating. Explain what the objects are. If there is a chance they would put small objects into their mouth, do not use small objects.

The Activity

  1. Put the box on the table to your side (the other side from where the person is sitting).
  2. Start by showing the person the fishing rod, so that it is immediately clear what you are talking about.
  3. Put the rod in clear sight for the person and keep it there to remind them of the topic.
  4. Present some of the smaller parts: take one weight out of the box. Hold it where the person can see it and show how you weigh it in your hand.
  5. Put it on the palm of the person’s hand.
  6. When they have weighed it, you can take it back and put it on the table.
  7. Continue similarly with the next weight or another item.
  8. Present the rod last, or upon request. You could put it in front of you both on the table and explore all parts together.

You could try:

  • looking at pictures of fish, and sort them (Activity 1), into likes vs dislikes, by colours or by type of fish
  • focusing on one part of the rod (e.g. the weights). You could then talk about different types in terms of colour, size and weight
  • making a puzzle of a picture of a fishing rod (Activity 4).
  • bringing sea shells to examine – feel them, listen to them, match them by shape, size or colour. You might want to develop templates, outlining the shells.

You may want to:

  • arrange the weights in order – lightest to heaviest
  • take the fishing rod apart and put it back together
  • prepare a fish dish together in the kitchen.
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Magical Mystery Bags

Magical mystery bags

This activity is particularly enjoyable for people with vision or hearing impairment. It involves identifying objects hidden in bags.

Preparation

Gather two of several different common objects (e.g. spoons, artificial flowers, pens, fishing
weights). Provide three similar small bags.

The Activity

  1. Place a different object in each bag.
  2. Put the bags in front of the person.
  3. Pick up an object matching one of those in the bags.
  4. Demonstrate how to hold and feel the object.
  5. Invite the person to hold and feel the object.
  6. Ask them to put that object on the table.
  7. Demonstrate how and then ask the person to feel in the first bag to decide whether the object is the same as the one on the table.
  8. Continue until a match is made and then repeat with other objects.

You could try:

  • using more distinct objects – different in size, weight and texture
  • using only two bags
  • showing the person the content of each bag
  • just feeling and exploring the objects you brought.

You may want to:

  • add more bags
  • put several objects in one bag and invite the person to pull out the one matching the object on the table
  • make a collage of the objects you brought.
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Clothes sorting

Clothes sorting

You could use your own washed and dried clothes or, if they live in a residential aged care facility, you could ask the staff if you can fold the washed and dried clothes from the person’s laundry.

Preparation

Bring a laundry basket with washed and dried (but not sorted or ironed) clothes.

The Activity

  1. Demonstrate to the person how to sort the clothes (e.g. put socks together, shirts together).
  2. Hand a piece of clothing to them.
  3. Invite them to put it on the right pile (or make another pile).
  4. Then invite the person to take pieces out of the basket themselves.
  5. When all the sorting is done, you can invite the person to fold some of the easier pieces, such as the socks or towels.
  6. Demonstrate how to fold a towel, then offer one towel.
  7. Observe if the person is able to continue with the pile of towels; if not, keep handing them one towel after another and demonstrate again if necessary.

You may want to:

  • provide a basket of socks, all of the same colour. Take out two socks and fold them in half and put in another basket
  • fold tea towels.

You could:

  • do the activity while standing up (to use leg muscles)
  • do all the laundry steps together – putting the laundry in the machine, taking it out, hanging the clothes out to dry (or putting them in the dryer), taking them back in, sorting, folding, putting them away.
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