Memory care facilities, designed to accommodate individuals who need some assistance with daily living because of memory loss, offer a range of activities designed to help residents cope with their loss of cognitive ability.

While some memory care facilities are stand-alone residential communities, others are part of an assisted-living community. All of them provide a safe environment for residents, but the staff also organizes a variety of activities to help residents slow the progress of their memory loss, ease frustration, and enjoy pleasurable experiences.

Physical fitness and memory

Health care researchers have made the connection between physical health and mental health for decades, and a Mayo Clinic study shows that exercise can benefit people who suffer from memory loss. While a complicated or strenuous exercise routine may not be possible, memory care centers typically include group activities that keep people moving to boost their mood, improve their balance and flexibility, and keep them physically strong.

Playing music and dancing can provide both mental and physical benefits to those with memory deterioration. Taking walks within the community or on a field trip provides valuable gentle exercise. Many memory care centers offer nature programs to integrate conversation about animals and plants into a physical activity.

If you have someone in your home in the early stages of memory loss, you can incorporate some of these activities into your daily life. Even activities that don’t seem to qualify as exercise can be beneficial to seniors. They could include watering plants, light gardening, washing dishes, dusting furniture, or playing horseshoes or croquet.

Power of music

Playing songs from seniors’ teenage years can help them reminisce and get them moving to the music, too. Many memory care centers provide music therapy to residents. Various types of music can be played to change the mood of someone with memory loss, to help her relax or to give her energy.

Singing can act as a memory exercise, because it pushes people to remember not just the rhythm of the music but also the lyrics.

Play games

Memory care centers organize games that can improve or help maintain residents’ cognitive abilities. A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that playing games that require brain power and doing crossword puzzles can improve brain health. AARP offers a variety of free games on its website you can try at home to boost your memory. Also, simple puzzles and board games can provide similar brain stimulation.

Other games and trivia contests favored by memory care centers that you can do at home include coming up with a common saying and asking seniors to finish it. For instance, give someone the beginning of the phrase “A penny saved…” and ask him to complete it. You can do the same with music, either playing the opening notes of a song or singing the beginning.

Enjoy food and conversation

Some memory care facilities plan special days to bake with seniors, because it not only gets the mind working to remember kitchen skills, it also triggers memories of friends, family, and favorite meals. If you don’t want to take on cooking, you can also enjoy a similar experience by making a fruit salad together or organizing a tasting of various teas, chocolates, or other treats.

While food and music trigger memories, sometimes memory care center staff simply lead residents into reminiscing as a way to improve memory retention. At home you can look at a photo album or fill a “memory bag” with items that relate to your senior’s life or to a special time of year. While you can’t bring someone’s memory back entirely, you can enhance her experience and create some memories of your own with activities geared to bringing her past back to life.