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Dementia is a horrible group of conditions and one that’s affecting more and more people each year. As we continue to live longer, increasing numbers of people are getting these conditions and rates are expected to rise year on year until effective treatments are found. Finding activities for a person with dementia to participate in can become increasingly difficult as their cognitive functioning declines and their ability to follow rules, instructions or keep themselves safe deteriorates. That’s where I think colouring can come in. Colouring is something we almost all start to do as a very young child, as soon as we can hold a pen we’re sat down with a colouring book in front of us and taught to stay within the lines. As we get older and hit our teenage years, most people stop colouring and either give up creative activities altogether or graduate on to more complex ones such as drawing, painting or crafts. People suffering from dementia may be able to continue these activities for some time into their condition, if it’s something they’ve done throughout their life, however, difficulty arises when this is not something they participated in as an adult because the skills would need to be learned rather than maintained. Colouring is something we don’t really lose the ability to do unless we become physically unable to do it. Colouring is something that even the moderately affected can still do as long as their body allows and this means that they can exercise another part of their brain and be creative and productive and have a beautiful piece of artwork to show for it afterwards.
So, why am I telling you all of this? I’m speaking from personal experience because both of my Grandads had/have dementia. I am now a carer for my Grandad and with his permission I’m telling you about our experience. My Grandad has Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA) a rare type of dementia with very little known about it and no specific diagnostic criteria. It is estimated that 5% of people with Alzheimer’s Disease have PCA but this could be as high as 15%. There is no prognosis and very little information about the condition because it’s so rare. The author Terry Pratchett had it and called it The Embuggerance which is a term our family have adopted too. My Grandad has been diagnosed for approximately 2 years and I’ve been spending time with him weekly for almost a year. At first, Grandad was very against the idea of colouring because he felt it was childish and silly, my Nana bought him a colouring book because it was recommended as a good activity for him by a support group but this remained untouched for months. These conditions change over time and things that sufferers were against originally, sometimes become approachable again and become something that they become interested in trying. Colouring has been one such activity. As I’m sure you can imagine, I was ecstatic when I received an email from my Nana saying that Grandad had spontaneously got his colouring book and pencils out ready to visit me with the following day. When he arrived, I was expecting that idea to have passed but he presented his pencils and said he’d like to colour and colour we did!
Colouring has been something we’ve been able to share together. Grandad knows all about my blog and while he now struggles with reading, my Nana often reads him blog posts I’ve written, including some of my reviews and tells him my news. Whenever he visits he asks about my blog and whether I’ve had any nice new books and how it’s all going and I think it’s probably this regular chatting about colouring that opened up the idea to him so that it felt more approachable. Grandad now has his own pens, he tested out a few of my pens and pencils so we could work out which he liked best, and his own book that suits his needs for a clear picture with well-defined sections so he’s sure of what each bit is, and we have a lovely time colouring together, sitting quietly, and chatting when the mood takes us.
When choosing a book for your loved one, it’s important to be aware of their physical abilities, especially those that will affect their enjoyment and use of a book. Things to make a note of are their visual acuity and whether they have problems seeing small things and therefore might need a book with larger spaces; their fine motor control and whether they have any problems with shaking, tremors, or any issues with grip meaning they might need pens rather than pencils and a thicker lined book. You also need to pay attention to their concentration level and decide whether they will be able to cope with a whole page, or whether stopping part way through will upset them, you may prefer a smaller book or even colouring postcards if this is the case. Finally, you want to think about image content and what your loved one might benefit most from colouring. My suggestion would be anything nature-themed because these are innately calming and will likely be images of things they’ll recognise and remember and may even help them to recall memories or stories of things from their past. The last thing to decide upon is whether they’ll want to colour with pens or pencils. If they have any issues with grip, or suffer from any swelling or tremors then I’d suggest pens, probably quite chunky ones that are made for children because they’ll be much easier to hold. Pens marketed for children also have handy added features like having washable ink (great for any accidents if the pens get dropped) and they usually have very durable nibs and long cap-off times which would be great for those who aren’t able to control the amount of pressure they’re colouring with, or who might forget to put lids back on the pens for a while. Pencils would be ideal for the nostalgia factor, almost everyone I speak to remembers the smell of opening up a box of Crayola pencils and this is sure to bring memories flooding back of happy time colouring as a child. Crayola pencils have pretty hard leads so these aren’t ideal for people with reduced grip which is something I actually experience and I’ve found that oil-based pencils are much better for softness and easier to get a vibrant colour without hurting your hand like wax-based pencils do. Recommendations can be found below as well as links to find them on Amazon.
Finally, this is an activity that should be enjoyed. Sitting quietly with someone and putting on some of their favourite music or just chatting with them or to them about happy times or news can be really calming and a lovely thing to do whilst colouring. It should be unpressured and you will likely need to be encouraging. Your loved one may not be as good at colouring as they hope to be, or as good as they remember and they’re likely to need encouragement to keep going and praise about the good job they’re doing. They may need help picking colours or you could get one of the books listed below that have ready done colour schemes so they can just focus on colouring and not picking out colours. Your loved one might find it quite a slow process and this could be for the simple reason that they pick all of the smallest bits in the picture to colour first. Processes and order become quite difficult and jumbled with dementia and something as simple as suggesting they start on a large section can easily abate any issues, even just picking a pen or pencil for them, or offering a limited selection (this offers a degree of control which may help their confidence, whilst not overwhelming them with choice), and pointing to a section to colour can really help get the process started. It’s quite a learning curve and quite different from colouring with children who are all too eager to get colouring the minute the items are put in front of them. Please don’t force someone to colour who doesn’t want to, I always ask my Grandad and if he doesn’t want to colour today then we don’t colour. Creativity isn’t something that can be forced and it’ll become something that is resented if you thrust it on your loved one so be guided by them and you’ll hopefully be onto a winner.
I really hope that this post will have opened up the possibility to many of you for the benefits colouring could have for your loved ones who have dementia. If you’d like any help with choosing a book, pens, or pencils, then please contact me here giving me information about the limitations your loved one has and what sorts of themes they might enjoy colouring and I’ll try to advise as best I can. If you manage to get your loved one colouring then do please let me know, I’d love to hear your stories and see some of the works of art you create together and you can either contact me through the blog or through my Facebook page here. Happy Colouring!
Colour by Numbers (ready-created colour schemes) can be found here:
Amazon UK – Colour by Numbers
Book Depository Worldwide – http://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=colour+by+numbers+adult&search=Find+book/?a_aid=colouringitmom
Books with large print images that I’ve reviewed can be found in the first section of this post.
UK County Colouring Books (absolutely ideal for nostalgia and triggering memories):
Amazon UK – County Colouring Book
Book Depository Worldwide – http://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=past+and+present+colouring+book&search=Find+book/?a_aid=colouringitmom
My review of The Sussex Colouring Book; and The Isle of Wight Colouring Book
Crayola – Crayola Coloured Pencils
Marco Raffine Coloured Pencils(much softer leads, easier on hands) – My review and links for purchase can be found here.
Marketed for Children
Faber-Castell 554250 – 50 Felt-Tip Pens – Multicoloured
Pack of 60 – Water Color Felt Tip Pens – Odour Free and Washable
Carioca Joy Fine Nib Superwashable Felt Tip Pen (Box of 36)
Marketed for Adults
As recommended by me and my Grandad – 26 x STAEDTLER TRIPLUS COLOR 323 ASSORTED – Exclusive Johanna Basford Edition My review of these can be found here.
STABILO Pen 68 Fibre Tip Pens Desk Set Colorparade of 20 Assorted Colours
One of my relatives is currently fundraising for the charity Rare Dementia Support who offer support to people with rare dementia’s including PCA, the type my Grandad has. She has bravely signed up to do a 52 mile non-stop walk across the South Downs and is looking to raise as much money as possible so if you’d like to donate, you can do so here. Thank you so much to any of you that donate, it means a great deal to me and my family!