Toys for People With Alzheimer’s Disease
Toys are fun, but they are so much more
Bruno Bettelheim spent most of his professional life studying child development. Not all of his work has stood the test of time, but one thing I think he got right is the importance of play. He said once, “The child knows only that he engages in play because it is enjoyable. He isn’t aware of his need to play….”
The need to play or otherwise be active applies to adults as well, including people affected with dementia. The activity, the stimulation, a sense of accomplishment that often goes along with play; all these are beneficial and therapeutic. Toys for people with Alzheimer’s don’t look very different than any other toys. However, it is not inappropriate to give toys to people with Alzheimer’s. They might not be aware of the benefit they are getting from the play, but if you watch them I think you will see it.
Toys for People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Toys and games are colorful; they’re interesting; they’re fun. Choose toys that are age- and stage-appropriate; these will do a better job of holding the interest of the person with Alzheimer’s. The right toys will be cognitively stimulating and improve quality of life. (Read more about age- and stage-appropriateness in our Activities for Alzheimer’s post.)
What to consider in a toy
Almost any toy that the person with Alzheimer’s is interested in will be beneficial. Most toys will be effective for more than one purpose. The Tangle featured on this page, invented for a broader audience, is a perfect toy for people with Alzheimer’s. It is manipulative. Twisting and turning the jointed sections provides exercise for the hands and arms at the same time that it is relaxing, almost meditative. The bright colors and varied textures of each segment provide sensory stimulation.
Demeaning or Dignifying?
Probably more than with any other recommendation for Alzheimer’s care, the concern will be raised here about the appropriateness of using toys in treatment, or perhaps of particular toys. This concern is understandable. It is difficult to watch a loved one regress into a childlike state. Unfortunately, that is what is happening. That person’s interests and abilities are changing.
The arguments in favor of toys as therapy center around the patient. It is our firm conviction that stage-appropriate activities, including toys, enhance the quality of life of persons with dementia.The only really valid criterion for rejecting a toy or activity is if the person in your care objects to that particular toy.
Alison Mahoney at the Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia reported that stage-appropriate activities are significantly more effective in bringing about positive outcomes than are age-appropriate activities. You can read more about her study on our Activity post; in essence it means that a toy that was designed for a child might be a better activity than an activity that was meant for a high-functioning adult.
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