5 creative activities to help people living with dementia

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.

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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

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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.

Find out how

2. Creative colouring

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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.

Find out how

3. Handmade cards

creative activities: card making

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!

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4. Jigsaw puzzles

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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.

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5. Shell and stone craft

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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.

Find out how

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4 comments

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This has truly made me think about what i can do to help my grandmother who also suffers from dementia. Why do you think that art therapy has such a healing effect on patients?

I'm under a lot of stress lately (from my in-laws) and am getting to the point
that I can't remember things like I used to. Can stress cause dementia? I'm
71 (will be 72 in July). It scares me the way I can't remember things any more.
Thanks for your help.

Hi Eileen, I am sorry to read of the stress you are experiencing at this moment in time. It sounds like there is some concern from you with regard to your memory. I also get the sense that this worry and the issue with your in laws may be causing the stress.

There can be many factors that can impact on our ability to remember and you are right, one of these factors is stress.

To help alleviate stress it may be an idea to make an appointment to see your GP to discuss how your feeling. The GP can carry out blood test to see if there are any other conditions that could be impacting on your memory, like a thyroid condition or vitamin deficiencies. The GP could also carry out a simple memory test for you.

Seeing your doctor and talking through your concerns about your health can have a positive impact. Not going to the doctor could mean you’re are just left dealing with the worry about your memory.
The doctor can also talk with you about how to deal with and manage stress.

I do hope this is helpful, please feel free to contact us again or call our Helpline if you need any further information or support. Our Helpline is open Monday to Wednesday (9am-8pm), Thursday to Friday (9am–5pm) and Saturday to Sunday (10am-4pm), and can be reached on 0300 222 11 22.

We also have a Live Online Advice service which is available Monday to Wednesday (9am–12pm, and 6pm-8pm) and Thursday to Friday (9am-12pm), which can be found at https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20013/talking_point_-_our_online_for…

Best regards, and please do get in touch again anytime you need to.

Can someone help me. I recently saw a knitting pattern for finger fidgets for people with dementia. I have found patterns for the fidget muffs but wanted to knit something differnt. I would like to knit some and donate them to charities and nursing homes. Can anyone post a knitting pattern?

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