A busy board or activity board is a therapy component used for patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Items are grouped so the user can easily access and manipulate them. If you’re going to put together an activity board for a senior parent or loved one with dementia, how do you do it?
Here’s how to make activity boards for dementia patients:
- Determine which items will go on the board
- Use medium-density fiberboard for the board itself
- Mark holes where you’ll place the items
- Secure items with a screwdriver, drill, or glue
If you want to learn more about busy boards, this is the article for you. Ahead, we’ll talk about why these boards are a good option for dementia patients. We’ll also go over the above steps for making a busy board, including the all-important decision of which items to add.
Why Are Activities Good For Dementia Patients?
If your parent or loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, the activities you two used to do together might have stopped because you worry about their memory.
While it’s fair to be concerned, your visits with family members who are in cognitive decline don’t have to be exclusively stationary.
You and your older adult should engage in activities. They are a great way to create positive memories and they provide social interaction, which is good for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Board games, card games, arts and crafts, listening to music, and getting some light exercise are especially beneficial. (and they make for great gifts too!)
Read our article, Easy Crafts For Seniors With Dementia.
Some of these recognizable activities can trigger long-buried memories in a dementia patient that wouldn’t have come out otherwise.
That’s especially true of listening to music from their time or watching an old film or television show. Even cooking and gardening can dislodge old memories.
Outside of activities, dementia patients must have a regular, consistent routine as well. Going to the same places the senior always used to run errands can likewise reignite old memories.
Do Activity Boards Work For Dementia Patients?
Some days, the dementia patient in your life might not have the desire to go out. Or maybe you had plans but the weather turned gloomy.
Rather than sit in silence, you should introduce an activity board to your loved one with dementia.
Activity boards are an excellent source of sensory stimulation. In addition, they provide tactile stimulation. They also help to slow memory loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While other meaningful activities, such as household chores, can give the person a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of control of their personal environment, the best busy boards give the added benefit of stimulating cognitive functioning.
As we explained in the intro, activity boards are boards full of things the dementia patient can manipulate. The items on the board provide a variety of tactile sensations such as the inclusion of zippers or locks.
Although an activity board or similar might not look like much to you, dementia patients can find great value in them. Here are the benefits they can reap by using an activity board.
Improved Hand-Eye Coordination
Most dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are seniors age 65 and up. As one gets older, our physical abilities begin to slip.
Hand-eye coordination is one example. If your parent or loved one with dementia isn’t doing much in their day-to-day life, that decline can worsen.
By fidgeting and playing with a therapy board, your senior has to pay attention to what they’re looking at while simultaneously doing activities.
A busy board activity might include zipping or unzipping a strip of fabric or unlocking a padlock.
While these tasks have childlike features, they don’t cause frustration. In addition, to someone under dementia care, the board gadgets seem more like fun games.
Besides using an activity board, make sure the dementia patient in your life is staying active.
Low-impact exercises such as practicing tai chi or going for a swim can improve a senior’s hand-eye coordination too according to Healthline.
Better Hand Dexterity
One’s hand-eye coordination is not all they lose in their senior years, but hand and finger dexterity as well.
A 2018 study from the journal Frontiers in Neurology found that “subjects with cognitive impairment showed decreased single-finger tapping regularity and reduced finger selectivity (compared to healthy elderly, age-matched subjects).”
What this tells us is that not only can age reduce dexterity, but Alzheimer’s or dementia can as well.
Thus, it’s ideal that dementia patients use the items on an activity board to keep their hands and fingers capable of moving deftly.
This will improve their quality of life in many ways. Your senior parent or loved one with dementia can maintain some degree of independence, which is important to them. They’ll be able to zip their pants, secure buttons, and tie their shoes.
How Do You Make A Busy Board For Dementia Patients?
Okay, you’ve decided that a busy board would benefit the dementia patient in your life. Per the intro, here are the steps to follow to make your own activity board that will be sure to enrich a senior in a multitude of ways.
Decide Which Items Will Go On The Board
The busy board should be made of a durable material like medium-density fiberboard or MDF, which you can buy at any arts and crafts store. You can also purchase MDF online.
Since it’s available in so many sizes, before you start shopping, you need to plan out the busy board.
That begins with determining which everyday items to put on the board. We’ll talk more about this more in the next section.
Gather Dementia Activity Board Items And Plan The Layout Of The Board
Just like a children’s fidget toy has various gadgets, your DIY activity board should contain familiar hardware.
We’ll go more in depth about what to include further down in this article. Meanwhile, considers such things as a light switch, a barrel bolt, a bike chain lock with a key, a sash lock or similar items.
Once you’re sure what you want to add to the busy board, place the items on cardboard or even a large piece of newspaper. Arrange the layout how you want it for the finished product.
Jot down measurements and maybe take a photo on your smartphone that you can use for reference later.
Buy The Particleboard And The Board Items
Now you can get shopping.
First, you need MDF. It’s okay if the particleboard is bigger than the measurements you took, as you can always cut the board down to size. The MDF shouldn’t be smaller though or you’ll have to omit some items on the board.
If you don’t already own the items you’ll need, then you’ll have to buy those as well.
Paint The Board
This step is optional, but if you want to paint the activity board, now is the time to do it. Use nontoxic paint in bright colors and ensure it’s totally dry before you proceed.
Place The Items On The Board
You did a sample layout before, but you want to create another layout before you begin permanently installing the items. This just confirms that everything on the activity board fits, which it should.
Once again, snap another photo with your smartphone so you can use it as a reference once you begin drilling, screwing, and gluing things in place.
Attach The Items To the Board
If you have a spare piece of MDF from cutting it down, start with that piece.
Run a screw through it with a drill. Does the particleboard splinter? Can you feel the screw from the other side? You don’t want any hazards for your senior parent or loved one.
If drilling the screws isn’t quite working, then it’s on to Plan B: glue.
You won’t be able to affix heavier items to the busy board with glue, so that might mean readjusting the board’s layout and doing a bit more shopping to fill the board with lightweight activities.
Let The Board Dry
If you did use glue, then give it adequate time to dry before you hand off the activity board to the dementia patient.
What Do You Put On An Activity Board For Dementia Patients At Home?
Now, let’s talk about what should go on the busy board you’re putting together for a senior parent or loved one with dementia. The activities should fine-tune their dexterity and hand-eye coordination while providing tactile sensations.
Here are some recommendations.
Flipping a switch off and on, even though it doesn’t do anything, can be very soothing to your senior.
Try the switch yourself before drilling it on the board. Does it flip easily? If not, then don’t include it.
The switch should also have smooth surfaces so your dementia patient doesn’t hurt themselves.
Shoe lacing via rivets attached to the activity board look good and are functional too. You can also replicate shoe lacing by fastening two rows of 3 to 4 D-rings that oppose each other onto the board.
As your senior practices tying and untying the laces, they can replicate these skills when tying their shoes. Ask them to tie knots, double-knots, and bows as well.
The inclusion of knobs on a busy board is just for something that feels good. Think carefully about the knob materials as you’re shopping.
A metal knob is going to feel smoother and cooler than a plastic knob. You can even buy a ridged knob for a truly tactile experience.
Grasping a zipper and opening it and then zippering it shut again is a good chance for your dementia patient to work on their hand dexterity.
The zipper should be attached to a piece of fabric; keep the zipper larger so your senior doesn’t get frustrated trying to use it.
Most craft stores should carry gears that you can include on the activity board. Like the laces, gears create intrigue around a busy board that might incline your senior to give the board a try.
Feel free to paint or draw on the gears if they’re all one color so they’re even more inviting to twist, pull, and rotate.
Bolt locks or deadbolts are a common feature on many activity boards. Their inclusion is more than just for soothing a dementia patient. Locks also have everyday use.
Your senior will be able to lock up their home tight and secure at night once their hands get used to locking and unlocking a deadbolt.
You can also include latches on the busy board, which seniors with dementia will use not only when playing with the board, but to lock up their home too.
Opening and closing a latch requires different dexterity skills than locking and unlocking a deadbolt, so both are good to add.
A simple plastic buckle on a fabric strip such as a pet collar might be easy for you to squeeze open, but that’s not necessarily true for seniors.
They’ll have to use their hand muscles to open the buckle and then secure the plastic slots together.
If your senior has a pet, leashing up their dog for a walk can become something that they no longer rely on assistance from others to do. That feels good for a senior, especially one who’s grappling with dementia.
Not all seniors can use laces, especially if they have conditions like arthritis that limit their dexterity. For them, they might have switched to Velcro footwear and clothing.
To encourage the easy use of Velcro, a few closures with the material would be a great inclusion on the activity board.
Do you have a stress ball on your desk at work for those especially tough days? Squeezing the toy calms you down.
For that reason, a squeeze toy makes sense on an activity board. The act of squeezing can also strengthen your senior’s hand and wrist.
Activity boards for dementia patients can improve their hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and relieve stress.
Building a busy board of your own will require an afternoon and a bit of preplanning. Once you see what the board can do for the senior in your life, you’ll be glad you made one!