Activities for Dementia: How to Engage Seniors in Arts & Crafts

By Erin Harris | Posted on 05.23.2017 | 0 comments
activities for dementia
Hobbies and socializing are truly important for all of us to be healthy.
 
Especially for people living with dementia, leisure and social activities are vital to maintaining a sense of familiarity, routine, and self. Not everyone knows this, but people with dementia can still enjoy life when we help them stay connected to their individual human spirit. When you engage someone in therapeutic activities that are meaningful to them, you can do just that.
 
An activity is therapeutic when it offers cognitive, physical, and emotional stimulation. It can be meaningful when it honors the person’s individuality.

To help someone with dementia engage in an activity that nurtures their soul, the activity should be person-centered and stage-specific. In a dementia care community, activities should also be available to everyone and tailored to both individuals and groups that share abilities and interests. It’s extremely important to keep in mind that abilities remain at every stage of the disease. Most importantly, the person remains at every stage. Remember that, and you can give the beautiful gift of living, as you help someone feel a sense of belonging, purpose, productivity, and even joy.
 

Activities for Dementia: Book Excerpt


For a sample of meaningful and therapeutic arts & crafts activities for individuals with middle stage dementia, here’s an excerpt from our Activity Planning Book. Be sure to grab the book if you need more activity ideas for people in all stages of dementia.

We hope you’ll find this to be the perfect starter for enhancing your activity program. Offer activities that match your clients’ interests and that are adapted to their cognitive stages, and you will help them enjoy life again.

Goals of Arts & Crafts Activities for Middle Stage Dementia
  • Offer cognitive stimulation to promote and maintain cognitive abilities.
  • Promote and maintain creativity and self-expression through arts and crafts.
  • Provide maintenance of sense of self as the individual remains connected to and involved in a valued activity.
  • Provide an opportunity to socialize with individuals who value a similar activity.
  • Offer upper-extremity exercise to promote and maintain range of motion, strength, and dexterity.
Equipment/Supplies Examples
  • Simple and safe arts & crafts projects, such as leather and woodworking, beading, painting and drawing, ceramics, etc.
  • Simple and safe materials and tools, such as nontoxic glues, paints, and stains; safety scissors; blunted needles, etc. (wide-based handles as needed).
Time Required
  • Setup: 15–20 minutes to set up room arrangement and to gather supplies.
  • Group Duration: Up to 60 minutes.
  • Cleanup: 15–20 minutes to put away supplies and reorganize room.
Precautions
  • Provide constant supervision when the person is using unfamiliar supplies and tools, such as sharp items, a hammer, etc.
  • Provide constant supervision to prevent any hazardous situations from occurring when the person is using potentially hazardous supplies. Prevent them from inhaling chemicals, drinking wood stain, etc.
  • Do not put stains/paints in cups that a resident can drink from.
How to Adapt Arts & Crafts Activities for People With Middle Stage Dementia

Whether you’re engaging someone in drawing, painting, coloring, woodwork, ceramics, or a similar activity, these guidelines will help. Keep in mind that a person in middle stage dementia will need one-to-one sequencing assistance, with tasks broken into single steps. Throughout the activity, limit choices to one or two. The person will enjoy repetitive motions, such as sanding wood and painting.
  • A person in middle stage dementia:
    • May not have an understanding of the purpose of the art or craft activity. However, they may derive pleasure and satisfaction from aspects of the activity.
    • Can be expected to attend to the activity for 5 to 20 minutes, requiring intermittent cues to continue the action/movement associated with the activity, (e.g., sanding back and forth on wood, making marks on paper for drawing or coloring).
    • Can attend to the group leader within 3 to 6 feet.
activities-for-dementia.jpg
Photo: Dương Trần Quốc/ Unsplash
  • The leader should support the person’s ability to perform the action/movement of the activity, as opposed to the person’s accuracy or awareness of a goal.
  • Materials/supplies and safe tools associated with the activity should be placed directly in front of the resident, within 14 to 18 inches.
  • A person in middle stage dementia will require and can follow cues/instructions to move to the next step of the activity.
  • To encourage involvement, the leader should present materials and supplies that are safe and highly familiar to the person.
  • The leader should provide one-to-one direct supervision if the person is working with sharp or potentially harmful items (e.g., straight needle, grout, wood stain, etc.).
  • The person may have difficulty manipulating small supplies/tools (e.g., small tile pieces, thin ribbon, etc.). The leader should provide supplies that have large pieces, use larger items, or use supplies/tools with built-up handles.
  • The leader should present demonstrated instruction for performing the actions or movements associated with the activity in a one-step format. The person with middle stage dementia may need a visual demonstration cue and hand-over-hand assistance to initiate the action or movement. Once the action/movement pattern has been established, the leader may be able to revert to verbal direction only for that movement.
  • The leader should allow the person with middle stage dementia to continue to perform the actions of one step of the project beyond what is necessary (e.g., sanding wood, painting an object, etc.).
  • The leader should provide demonstrated directions, verbal cues, (and hand-over-hand assist if needed) for each new step of the activity; e.g., 1. Sand the wood. 2. Stain the wood. 3. Glue the wood.
  • Do not expect the person with middle stage dementia to recognize errors. Do not correct errors unless the person demonstrates frustration with the work.
  • Do not expect the person to match a sample or have awareness of an end product.
  • Involve the person in other familiar and safe, repetitive activities using the supplies/materials involved in art or craft activity, (e.g., sorting tools into bins; sorting materials by color, shape, or size' folding or stacking materials; sorting beads, etc.). The ability to perform the actions/movements associated with the art or craft activity will be at a moderately slower rate of speed than normal. 


Sample Activity for People With Middle Stage Dementia


Here’s a sample from our Garden eBook of crafts for seniors with dementia. Be sure to download the full eBook for more activity ideas for people in all stages of dementia.
 
Painting clay or plastic pots can be a fun activity for someone who has always enjoyed gardening. But don’t limit yourself to this activity—you can also engage people with middle stage dementia in planting flowers or herbs, painting landscapes, making pottery, sanding wood, drawing portraits—the possibilities are endless!
 
Supplies
  • Clay pot sealer spray
  • Clay pots with matching saucers: 4-inch diameter
  • Plastic gloves and aprons
  • Outdoor paints in small bottles and/or markers for narrow lines or letters (craft shops have them—lots of bright colors)
  • Paint brushes: two 1-inchsponge brushes; two 1/2-inchsponge brushes; six 1/4-inchflat ones (craft); six 1/2-inchflat ones (craft); several short-handled stencil brushes. These are stiff short bristles and great for stippling flowers.  
Preparation
Before engaging a person with dementia in this activity, be sure to seal the inside and outside surfaces of the clay pots—two coats at least and two days before the activity. The pots must be dry before painting! Plastic pots do not have to be sealed.
 
Setup
Have magazines and seed catalogs available on the tables for the residents to get some ideas of what to paint. Demonstrate some decorative patterns for the pots. Offer choices of colors.
 
Tips
  • Make suggestions for simple designs using repetitive shapes such as dots or bands of color.
  • Use the stencil brush to just dab color to look like flowers. No artistry required!
  • Most people with middle stage dementia will be aware of the activity.
  • If a person becomes distracted by noise or conversation around them, offer cues for them to return to the project.
  • Provide lots of praise for everyone!
I love this activity for people with #dementia! ❤️

More resources
Be sure to observe the person’s behavior and their level of participation throughout the activity. This will help you analyze the success of the activity. The full Activity Planning Book comes with activity analysis information to give you further guidance on activity goals, precautions, setup, duration, and cognitive adaptation. To put all this into action, And check out this video with Kim Warchol, OTR/L, president and founder of Dementia Care Specialists:
 

Thank you for your dedication to making life better for the people you care for!
 
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