When Heather O'Neil's mum was diagnosed with dementia, art therapy helped to bring purpose back to her life. Here are five of their favourite activities.
In 2012, after many memory tests and finally a CT scan, my dear mum was diagnosed with mixed dementia.
My step dad suffers from heart failure and is often unwell, so when mum’s memory really started to decline in 2014 I felt the time had come for them to move closer to me. As well as cleaning, cooking and shopping, the most important thing I do for my mum is to schedule quality time with her every day for crafts and music.
My mum has always been a very creative person and she passed on her love of arts and crafts to me. I graduated in 1984 with a degree in Art & Textile Design, but for many years my art was put on the back burner. It only resurfaced when I discovered how invaluable art therapy could be for those with memory problems.
Of course what works for one person may not work for another, but art therapy has helped my mum to live a meaningful life, staying happy and engaged despite her condition. Here are five of her favourite activities!
1. Paper flower making
My mum’s favourite hobby is making beautiful paper flowers. She loves making things she can give away to the doctors and nurses who visit... as well as the dentist, optician, hairdresser, friends and anyone else who admires them!
I provide a cardboard template for petals and leaves and my mum will happily sit for hours cutting out the pretty, brightly coloured crepe paper shapes. Together we glue the stamens and petals to the stems and once she's done two or three with me, she's able to carry on by herself. Beautiful crepe paper flowers fill the house and are a constant reminder to her that she is wonderfully creative.
2. Creative colouring
Mum may have forgotten how to draw a picture on her own, but she has certainly not forgotten how to colour! Pencil crayons are great for her to work with – so clean and easy to use. Instead of keeping my mum's creations inside her colouring book or tucked out of sight, we cut out her pictures to use on hand made cards.
We also frame her best colourings and display them on the wall as constant reminders for her that she has such a special talent.
3. Handmade cards
Mum loves to make handmade cards for all occasions! Although she isn’t able to come up with the designs on her own anymore, I make a template for her which she uses to cut out decorations and make her cards. I find that card making encourages mum's self-expression and lessens her anxiety and fidgeting. Cutting out designs helps with hand-eye coordination, while sticking down shapes aids focus and concentration. This kind of art therapy really gives my mum a feeling of purpose, accomplishment and pride!
4. Jigsaw puzzles
I make sure we have a puzzle on the table every day so my mum can work at it whenever she feels like it, which stimulates her brain. We enjoy working on puzzles together, but this is also an activity that she is also happy to do on her own providing they're not too difficult. My mum is still able to manage 100-piece puzzles but only just. Soon I will need to buy puzzles with fewer pieces so that she is not discouraged or frustrated.
5. Shell and stone craft
This is another simple craft but it’s very beautiful and such fun to do! We turn our decorated shells into amazing wind chimes, giving mum a wonderful feeling of purpose and achievement. We also paint stones to make into unique paper weights.
First, I emulsion the stones and draw on pencil outlines of flowers or cats (my mum's two favourite things!), then mum colours them in with felt tip pens and markers. A quick spray of lacquer and they make lovely gifts that she is very proud of.