Watching Activities

Watching activities are appropriate for everyone, so long as they have reasonable eyesight. They can provide a wonderful way for friends and family to engage with a loved one with dementia. You can try using pictures of friends, family, or of places and objects that are meaningful to you.

Sorting Pictures - includes video

Sorting Pictures.gif

There are many variations of this activity. The only things you need are:

  • two templates (an example can be found in Appendix B)
  • a number of labels with different headings or categories
  • colourful printed pictures (from magazines or from the internet). The pictures can represent a number of things (e.g. related to the person’s previous occupation, their hobbies or interests, or images from favourite holidays).


The templates from Appendix B may be used, or you can make your own. You may want to laminate these so they will last longer.

Print out pictures; these can also be laminated to make them last longer if you think you might use them again. A5 size (half of an A4 sheet of paper) is an easy size to hold.

The labels need to be related to the pictures; however, they can be broad categories to capture a number of pictures. Examples include:

  • different colours or just ‘light’ and ‘dark’
  • brand names
  • male and female
  • ‘like’ and ‘dislike’
  • different countries
  • different content (e.g. pictures of ‘land’ and ‘water’).

The Activity

  1. Put the templates on the table in front of the person.
  2. Choose two relatively easy category labels and place them on the top black rectangle. As an example, use ‘like’ and ‘dislike’.
  3. Show the person the first picture; look at it together and, perhaps, discuss what is in the picture.
  4. Ask the person if they like the picture (if they do not have a response, talk about the picture yourself).
  5. Look at the labels together. Direct the person’s attention to the labels by pointing from their line of sight to the labels.
  6. Encourage the person to point to or verbalise where the picture should go and put the picture on the template of the person’s choosing.
  7. Look at the next picture. Now carefully hand this over to the person to hold. Continue as before.

Tip:The person may need some more instructions at any time: keep demonstrating and pointing at what you are asking them to do.

You may want to:

  • just look at pictures together. You can talk about what’s in the picture. What colours? What kind of things or people? How many? Ask questions.
    Let the person point at certain aspects of the image
  • change the labels to easier ones. If likes/dislikes is too difficult, consider sorting by colour (e.g. blue/red) or to make it a bit easier use dark/light.

You could:

  • use more complex labels, such as names of countries or cities, or brand names of products.
  • If you are sorting football teams you can sort by team, by city of origin, or by who made the finals last year
  • use more templates
  • prepare questions to stimulate reminiscence (if the person is still quite verbal)
  • make a collage of the pictures – put it on the wall.

Alternatives to this activity

If playing cards was a favourite game of the person, consider sorting cards (develop special templates). You can sort by colour or by suit. If that is too easy, you can try and play their favourite game. If they played poker, for example, you can create examples of each type of hand (e.g. a pair, a straight, a full house). You can ask the person to name a hand (e.g. flush, three of a kind), or to match the hand with a label (e.g. ‘flush’, full house’), or to say which of two hands is the better hand (e.g. a flush is better than three of a kind).

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Sequencing pictures

Sequencing Pictures.jpg

This is a variation of the sorting pictures activity.

You will need:

  • a template (Appendix B)
  • a number of pictures. Any kind of pictures can be used, as long as there is a clear start, middle and end to each sequence, for example ‘young’ to ‘old’ for animals or people, or first to last for any events or sequence activities (e.g. kicking a goal – the mark, prepare for the kick perhaps by putting their mouth piece in their sock, and then the kick).

Tip:This activity provides a great opportunity to use family pictures; for every member of the family you can bring photos from the time they were babies until their current age.


The template can be used from the Appendix, or you can make your own. You may want to laminate these so they will last longer.

Print out pictures; these can also be laminated to make them last longer if you think you might use them again. A5 size is an easy size to hold.

The Activity

  1. Mix the three pictures for one sequence (e.g. of one family member).
  2. Show the person one picture and encourage them to place it in the appropriate place on the sequence template.
  3. Show the person another picture and encourage them to place it in the appropriate place on the sequence template. Give the person the opportunity to perhaps change the choice they made before for the first picture. Maybe upon seeing the second picture, they would like to move the first one somewhere else.
  4. Show the person the third picture and encourage them to complete the sequence.
  5. Continue with the next group of cards.

You could try:

  • using a template with only two options (e.g. first/last or young/old)
  • looking at the pictures and talking about who is in them. If that is difficult, talk about colours, number of people, what they are wearing.

You may want to:

  • use a template with more options or prepare a second template (for up to
    6 options)
  • make the difference between the pictures less distinct
  • give the person all the pictures for the same individual at the same time
  • use two templates one above the other and sets of photos for two relatives. Let the person sort by person and young/old at the same time.
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Making a memory book

Making a Memory Book.jpg

This activity also is looking at pictures, but in this activity you will actually be making a book together with the person. During future interactions you can then look at the book together, or you can keep adding more photos and pages.


Provide a book for the album (or get two books and the person can decide which to use).

Collect many images (these can range from family pictures to colour prints from the internet and may include images related to the person’s previous occupation, their interests and their hobbies). You will also need glue or tape to attach the pictures in the book.

The Activity

  1. With the person, look at the pictures, one after the other, and decide whether each picture should go in the book. This can be a sorting activity using labels ‘include’ and ‘not include’.
  2. Together decide on themes and make labels for each theme.
  3. You could ask the person to select the order of the themes.
  4. Separate the images for the first theme and start arranging pictures on the first page. You could demonstrate the first one by choosing the picture, showing it to the person and then putting it (slowly) on the page.
  5. Hand the next picture to the person and invite them to put it on the page.
  6. Once the page has several pictures on it, demonstrate how to attach each picture to the page using tape or glue.
  7. Invite the person to attach the next picture by handing over the tape or the glue.
  8. Continue on the next page.

You may want to:

  • do all or some of the steps yourself, with the person watching

You could:

  • Selecting the pictures together from family photos or the internet.
  • If this really captures the person’s interest and they find it easy to follow your lead, you could hand the activity completely over to them. You could even leave the materials and leave written instructions.
  • When they finish their own book, you may want to ask the person to make a book for a family member, or a friend.
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Making Puzzles

Making Puzzles.jpg

This activity aims to make puzzles out of familiar pictures.


Choose a photo of something that is familiar to the person (such as a family member or friend or pets), copy onto A4 paper and horizontally cut into three pieces. (You may want to laminate the picture before cutting it to make it last longer.)

Make a template of a blank A4 page and draw black lines matching the shape of the pieces.

The Activity

  1. Put the template in front of the person.
  2. Present the person with the first part of the picture, and invite them to hold it for you.
  3. Look at the piece of the picture together, and perhaps discuss what is in the picture.
  4. Point at the three different sections on the template.
  5. Invite the person to put the piece on the template, perhaps guiding their hand.
  6. Present the second part of the puzzle and continue as before.

You could try:

  • adding a template of the actual picture for easier matching; still outline the pieces that you cut
  • presenting the parts in order from top to bottom
  • cutting the picture into two pieces only
  • putting the puzzle together for the person as they watch.

You may want to:

  • cut the picture into more parts, possibly also diagonally
  • Put the puzzle together with no template, using only the pieces of the picture.
  • use an actual puzzle, either with large or regular pieces. Work on smaller sections if it is large.
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Matching Accessories

Matching Accessories.jpg

This activity is about matching shoes and handbags. There are many choices for matching, and the person will ultimately decide what you will be doing. You could match by:

  • size
  • colour
  • pattern
  • style.


Gather several shoes and a variety of handbags.

You may wish to tie the shoes in their pairs to make it easier to find a pair.

Tip: Op shops, relatives and friends are all good sources for many materials used in these activities.

The Activity

  1. Show one pair of shoes to the person and suggest that they hold them. Or you could put the shoes on the table in front of them.
  2. Show the person two handbags and ask which one matches the shoes best. You might talk about colours, or size.
  3. Once the person has made a choice, put the shoes and handbag to the side and show another pair of shoes and another choice of handbags.

You might try:

  • looking at the shoes and handbags and feel different textures and materials
  • matching the items yourself with the person watching; check if this captures their attention, and then encourage them to participate.

The described activity is very open.

If there is a good understanding of the activity you can:

  • ask the person to sort by colour or a certain style
  • add hats or other items to the mix.

Alternatives to this Activity

This activity can be used with other items of clothing. You might like to use shirts and ties, or skirts and blouses.

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