Dementia - therapeutic activities

You will find here resources that highlight the importance of therapeutic activities, including topics such as art, music therapy, life story and reminiscence.

In other sections of the website you can also:

Resources are arranged under the following headings:

The resources below were last accessed on 15 June 2015. Some of them are in PDF format - see how to access PDF files.

Cognitive therapies

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy
Cognitive Stimulation is an evidence based treatment for people with mild to moderate dementia and is recommended by NICE Guidance irrespective of drug treatments received. It involves 14 sessions of themed activities, which run over a seven week period which aim to actively stimulate and engage people with dementia.

Cochrane Library: Cognitive stimulation to improve cognitive functioning in people with dementia
This review, which was first published in February 2012, aimed to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of cognitive stimulation interventions aimed at improving cognition for people with dementia, including any negative effects. Although the quality and size of the randomised controlled trials were variableThe author “there was consistent evidence from multiple trials that cognitive stimulation programmes benefit cognition in people with mild to moderate dementia over and above any medication effects".

The Cochrane Library is a collection of databases that contain high quality, independent evidence to inform healthcare decision making. Within the Cochrane Library the Learn and Help sections provide further information and instructions on how to use the Cochrane Library and how to carry out searches. For example, for details of different forms of support including webinars, online self-paced tutorials and printed materials see how to use the Cochrane Library.

Individual Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (iCST)
The iCST study is a Health and Technology Assessment funded programme (HTA), sponsored by University College London (UCL). It aims to increase quality of life and cognition for people with dementia. In response to the government’s emphasis on improving early interventions and home care for people with dementia, this home-based individual Cognition Stimulation Therapy (CST) package can be delivered by family carers.

Psychosocial therapies

Life story

Alzheimer's Society / RCN (2013) 'This is Me' leaflet
This downloadable leaflet, originally developed for people with dementia who were going into hospital, has now been updated and is relevant for people with dementia who are receiving professional care in any setting. It is a practical tool that people with dementia can use to tell staff about their needs, preferences, likes, dislikes and interests. It supports health and social care staff in the gathering of personal/ life history information from individuals with dementia, and in delivering care more specifically tailored to individual needs.

Dementia UK. What a difference a story makes: using life story work to enhance care (PDF 103KB)
"Life story work has been promoted as a tool to enhance the care provided to older people, particularly those with dementia. The benefits for individuals, families/friends and for staff providing care include improving understanding of the individual, promoting relationships and facilitating delivery of person –centred care. However despite increased emphasis on using life story work to support care delivery, there are often difficulties in implementation."

Dementia UK: Life story work
A template for putting together Life Story books has been developed by Dementia UK and the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. This framework can be used by staff to collect information about the people they are working with in order to help them understand more about them and to provide information, which can help them to deliver person centred care. This is a collaborative process with family members and friends and emphasis is placed on using images and photographs to bring the life story book ‘to life'. The template can be adapted and updated according to individual needs or preferences and a copy can be stored electronically in case of loss or damage.

Foundation of Nursing Studies (2009) Life Stories Work for Older People with Dementia
This project aimed to support the introduction of life story work for people with dementia and their families within a number of clinical areas across two Mental Health NHS Trusts.

National Life Story Network
This network is intended to provide a means by which all those using life stories or developing such services can share experiences and learn from each other.

Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE): Social Care TV: Getting to know the person with dementia: the importance of memories
This film is about the importance of getting to know the person with dementia, learning about their memories and experience, understanding the person's history and their likes and dislikes. 

South West Yorkshire Partnership: Portrait of a life video clips
The 'Portrait of a life' multimedia toolkit has evolved from a trust driven collaborative project that was originally launched in November 2006. A key objective of the project was to increase activity in life story work in acute hospitals, care homes and as well as community and mental health services. This toolkit helps to ensure that care is truly centred around the person.

Music and dance

Alzheimer's Society: Singing for the brain
This is a service provided by the Alzheimer's Society which uses singing to bring people together in a friendly and stimulating social environment. Singing can also provide a way for people with dementia, along with their carers, to express themselves and socialise with others in a fun and supportive group.

Circle dancing
This organisation offers training and workshops for staff working with people with dementia. "Dance and movement have successfully been included in activities for people with dementia for many years. Making use of rhythm, music, touch and movement, allows the individual the opportunity to connect with, and relate to others. Research indicates that it contributes positively to the inner well-being of each person who takes part".

Dementia UK: Music for Life
Music for Life is a partnership between Dementia UK and Wigmore Hall. The project works with people with dementia and the staff who care for them in a variety of settings. Professional musicians use improvisation to draw out the potential of people with dementia for self expression and communication, particularly helping those who are emotionally isolated and disempowered as a result of the advanced stage of their condition.

Music in Hospitals
This charity aims to improve the quality of life for adults and children with all kinds of illness and disability through the joy and therapeutic benefits of professionally performed live music in hospitals, hospices, day care centres, special schools, nursing and residential homes.

NHS Choices: Singing and dementia
Music therapy and singing are increasingly being used to promote well-being for people living with dementia. Singing groups can offer people with dementia, and their carers, a chance to socialise and sing with other people in the same situation.

Playlist for life
Playlist for Life encourages families and caregivers of a person with dementia to create a playlist of uniquely meaningful music on an iPod and offer it at any time of the day or night. It is effective both at home and in residential care, at an early stage of the condition and later on.

Rayne Foundation and National Alliance for Arts Health & Wellbeing (2014) Sustaining the note of hope (PDF 1.4MB)
This report is for anyone interested in improving care of those with dementia, and for people working in music who would like to know more about music’s contributions to dementia care. More than 40 professionals from care settings, music organisations, and universities came together for an inspiring day of discussion about the potential of music to support the quality of life for people with dementia.

Complementary and alternative therapies

Alzheimer's Society: Complementary and alternative therapies
This factsheet explains what complementary and alternative therapies are, outlines several therapies for which there is some evidence of their effectiveness and describes how to access these treatments.

General activities

Alzheimer's Society: Staying involved and active
This factsheet explains the benefits of keeping active and staying involved to a person with dementia. Activities such as exercise, reminiscing, art, games, and sensory stimulation are discussed.

House of Memories
This training programme targets the carers of people living with dementia. It provides participants with information about dementia and equips them with the practical skills and knowledge to facilitate a positive quality of life experience for people living with dementia. A number of practical memory resources and activities have also been developed for anyone to use, including a House of Memories app.

Pictures to Share
Pictures to Share is a social enterprise which aims to provide high quality and non-patronising books and activity resources for those with dementia or cognitive problems. The illustrated books which are used in hospitals, care homes and other contexts “have been shown to encourage meaningful communication and provide a source of real enjoyment”. There are short films on the website introducing the use of these books and on what practitioners think about the them. A guide to using these materials is also available to download. The books and related resources can be purchased direct from the website and a view of the contents of each title is available. Support materials in the form of music and film clips are also available via YouTube.

SCIE Dementia Gateway: Keeping active and occupied
This section of the dementia gateway, which brings together tools, activities and practical tips, includes areas on activity resources and approaches that offer helpful ways to develop meaningful activity and improve quality of life for people with dementia. These inlcude creative arts, movement and exercise and reminiscence.


For relevant standard statements and associated guidance see:

NICE quality standards: Dementia standard
See statement 6.

Scottish Government: Standards of care for dementia in Scotland
As a person with dementia:
I have the right to access a range of treatment, care and supports.

For overarching resources and resources on other specific aspects of care see Supporting people with dementia.