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 Integrating Cognitive Stimulation Through Play According to the Different Phases of Alzheimer’s Disease

Play is good therapy.

 Integrating Cognitive Stimulation Through Play According to the Different Phases of Alzheimer’s Disease.

By Marie Vaudry


Play is good therapy.
Play is good therapy, probably better than most of us know.

The article is on how Marie Vaudry is a caregiver of a mother, diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at 59 years old uses play therapy. She is the Founder of Gleam in Your Eye, a company dedicated to bringing joy to the lives of people with dementia.

The evolution of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders does not follow an easy and smooth path. It contains several challenges and upheavals that are unsettling and disrupt our daily lives. On several occasions, a friend who is a geriatric speech therapist reminded me of the importance of adapting to new realities and savouring every moment with my mother. But how can I make the most of it if she isn’t able to talk to me or she can’t remember me? Understanding the different stages of the disease helped me adapt my approach so I could foster memorable moments with her. Here is a summary of the different phases of the disease and tips on integrating play into each one. 

Experts agree that there are three main stages of the disease. The first is the initial stage (mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s). This step often goes unnoticed because the disease appears gradually. The link between short-term and long-term memory becomes increasingly difficult. Common symptoms include:

• tending to forget
• losing time perception
• getting lost in familiar places


play therapy
It is still possible for people living with Alzheimer’s to participate in their favorite hobbies.

 It is still possible for the person to enjoy their favourite hobbies such as reading, crossword puzzles, card games, and so on. That’s why at this stage, I encourage you to take full advantage of being with your loved one and agree to play the games they like. Make every moment with them memorable. They will help you get through the next steps. 

The second is the Intermediate stage (moderate or middle-stage Alzheimer’s).  As the dementia evolves into the intermediate stage, signs and symptoms become clearer and more visible. Among other things, the person may: 

  • Forget recent events and the names of people they know
  • Get lost at home
  • Have more difficulty communicating
  • Require assistance with personal hygiene
  • Exhibit behavioural changes such as wandering or repeating the same questions

 This phase was very unsettling for both my mother and for us. While she used to read a novel a week, she couldn’t do that anymore. I saw her taking notes to remember the events in the story she was reading and noticed she was experiencing many frustrations. That’s why, at this stage, we can have a big impact on the person. We can continue to help them engage in activities that they like, but in a different way. We can help them to overcome their frustrations and anger. If they like to read novels, you can, for example:


Reading together
Reading together is also good play therapy.
  • Take turns reading passages from their favourite book
  • Ask them to tell you the story out loud
  • Read the book’s summary on the back cover
  • Have fun by describing the characters
  • Read shorter stories and news articles (about one page long)

Despite all these ideas, my mother was still upset at not being able to read a novel. However, she managed to enjoy the time she spent doing her favourite hobbies, albeit differently and with our help. That is why I encourage you to use your creativity to get through this difficult phase as peacefully as possible. If you are looking for suitable activities, you can visit: www.gleaminyoureye.com.

The third stage is the last one (severe or late-stage Alzheimer’s). It is characterized by an almost complete level of dependence and inactivity. Past events and information disappear from memory. Physical signs and symptoms become more apparent. Symptoms include the following:

  • • Losing awareness of time and place
    • Having difficulty recognizing family and friends
    • Requiring more assistance with personal hygiene
    • Having difficulty walking
    • Exhibiting behavioural changes

My mother is now in this phase of the disease; occupational and recreational therapists have suggested that I play more sensory games with her, especially those that involve the sense of touch. You will be amazed at what your loved one can still do despite their limited abilities. Surprisingly, my mother is still able to paint. While it is more difficult for me to get her attention, she can actively participate for about 15 minutes once I do. You can have your loved one:

  • Touch different textures such as silk, cotton, and wool
  • Fold clothes or fabrics
  • Handle small items that belong to them
  • Tear paper with their hands

There are still many things that can help the person get involved in an activity and stay connected with the people they love. The advice I have often been given is to dare to try new things because I might be surprised by the positive outcome.

I encourage you to use games: they can be a source of joy for you and also bring some happiness to the person with Alzheimer’s. The following blog post may help you to enhance the success of your activities:  https://gleaminyoureye.com/blogs/articles/success-is-key

Or, if you are looking for games, you can visit our page:


Related podcast episodes:

Art Therapy for Older Adults

Connecting through Art



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Fading Memories is a supportive podcast for people dealing with a loved one with memory loss. We interview people who have some of the answers and families currently on this journey. Join us and we’ll support each other along the way!

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