Heather O’Neil is always looking for new craft and activity ideas for her mum, who has mixed dementia. As the condition progresses, she’s been using online tools to keep Mum active and happy.
After her mum was diagnosed in 2012, Heather has drawn on her love of arts and crafts to come up with creative activity ideas. From simple colouring to puzzles and paper flower-making, these activities had a great effect.
Heather’s ideas worked so well, that she started writing about them on her brilliant art therapy blog and Facebook page. She also started selling the paper flowers that her mum had made, raising over £600 for Alzheimer’s Society.
Since then, Heather’s mum’s condition has progressed. While she’s still selling her paper flowers on Etsy, Heather has had to find new things that they can do together.
‘My mum's condition is sadly declining. Whereas with traditional arts and crafts I need to sit with my mum and help her, with online activities she can just about manage on her own.
'The internet is wonderful, and I'm pleased to say I have found some great new activities to keep my mum happy and engaged.’
Here are five online activities they enjoy together;
1. Online puzzles
Lots of people enjoy jigsaw puzzles and they can be a fun activity for people living with dementia, providing they’re not too difficult. We have a selection of dementia-friendly jigsaws available in our shop.
The good thing about online puzzles is that there is a wide range to choose from at different difficulty levels. Some websites, such as JIGIDI, can even transform your old photos into puzzles, which is great for triggering memories and conversation.
‘My mum has always loved doing puzzles, but as the disease has progressed I have had to find puzzles with fewer, larger pieces.
‘With JIGIDI, the puzzle pieces are all the right way up and jump in like magic when they are in the correct position. Mum is currently managing 24 pieces all on her own, but it’s good to know that we can go down to 12-piece puzzles if we need to.’
2. Colouring websites
Adult colouring books have been very popular in recent years, and it can be a fun or soothing activity for people with dementia.
Online colouring works well on tablets and touchscreen devices, where it’s easy to tap and fill the white spaces. This is particularly true for people in the later stages of the condition, when using a pen, pencil or computer mouse may no longer be possible.
‘The website we use is The Color. There's a wonderful choice of colourings, from animals and flowers to vehicles, circus, trains ... the list is endless! Once you have coloured the picture you can print it off or share it with friends and family as there is also an email option.
‘Colouring with this website is so much fun, and any mistakes made just add to the enjoyment. I think mum and I laugh more with this activity than any other!’
3. YouTube videos
YouTube is another great source of entertainment. The website’s huge archive of older videos is great for reminiscing, whether it’s old music, TV or sports. Whatever a person’s interests, you’ll find plenty of choice available to browse and search.
‘I use my laptop to show Mum funny animal videos – it’s a great way to keep her entertained and happy. I find this such a help while I am in the kitchen, and it’s wonderful to hear her laughter and I can just pop my head round to check on her.’
4. Online games
'Brain training' games are popular with people in the early stages of dementia and those that are worried about their memory. While there is no evidence that these games will specifically help to prevent dementia, some studies have shown it can help aspects of memory and thinking.
Aside from ‘training’ the brain, online games can be simply good fun for people living with dementia. App stores and websites are full of free games and puzzles, so have a look for something that matches the person’s interests.
‘I recently started playing Solitaire with my mum. This is definitely an activity that requires my input, but it gets my mum thinking and is very stimulating and fun!’
5. Music playlists
Music and singing groups are often popular with people living with dementia, providing meaning and enjoyment into the later stages of the condition. As well as watching videos on YouTube or BBC iPlayer, making a playlist of old favourites is perfect for playing in the background.
Playlist for Life is a website specifically designed for people living with dementia, while there’s also a huge collection available on Spotify. You could also try using online assistants such as Alexa, Siri or Google Home, which are capable of lots more beyond just music.
‘We use Alexa literally all the time. To ask the weather, create a shopping list, set a timer, ask for jokes ... but most of all to play music.
‘My mum's parents were from Scotland. She talks about them all the time now, so having Scottish music on makes her very happy as you can see.’