Does your elderly parent or older adult have dementia? If so, the time you spend together may be getting more difficult to bear as their memory lapses. The next time you are with them, why not try some arts and crafts? They can be highly beneficial for dementia patients, as well as a fun way to stay connected with your loved one.
Try the following easy crafts for seniors with dementia:
- Decorating cookie dough
- Sculpting with Play-Doh
- Adult coloring books
- Making paper flowers
- Creating a pine cone bird feeder
- Painting rocks
In this guide, we’re presenting our easiest craft ideas and recommendations, plus detailed step-by-step instructions and video tutorials for these dementia-safe creative activities.
Why Are Arts And Crafts Good For Dementia Patients?
I’m sure you are trying to keep the visits with your elderly loved one easy and breezy. But, depending on their stage of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s possible that a lot of the conversations you try to initiate trail off due to their cognitive decline.
Arts and crafts can be a great way to continue making positive memories with your loved one and may even help their dementia.
Here are some benefits of craft projects for dementia patients.
Increases Cognitive Function
The group of diseases known as dementia robs a person of their judgment and memory and potentially other brain functions as well. While dementia has no cure, restoring some brain function may be possible through creative arts and crafts.
So says a 2016 edition of the journal Chinese Nursing Research. The data determined that art therapy can improve cognitive function in dementia patients and potentially increase their communication abilities as well.
If you think it’s frustrating talking to a dementia patient, imagine how it is for them. They might want to communicate thoughts and feelings that they just can’t express. Arts and crafts are a great nonverbal means of self-expression.
Here’s more great info about How To Talk To A Parent With Dementia.
Gives Them Something To Do
Sitting idly by and watching TV does nothing for a dementia patient’s cognitive functioning. When they’re actively working on something that gives the person a sense of accomplishment – that’s when the brain benefits. Arts and crafts can keep a senior busy for hours.
For more ideas, read our article about Keeping Seniors With Dementia or Alzheimer’s Busy.
What Type Of Art Is Best For Dementia Patients?
Arts and crafts encompass a variety of activities ranging from crocheting to painting to making decorative objects to sewing – and everything in between.
You don’t want to saddle your senior with an activity that’s outside of their wheelhouse. That might have you wondering what the best type of art for dementia patients is?
Here are some traits that the arts and crafts activities you recommend should possess.
Easy To Do
Maybe that 20-step arts and crafts project you found on Pinterest looks really cool, but after mulling it over, you’re thinking that it seems sort of complicated. In this case, it’s probably not the best activity to suggest to your senior parent or loved one. Instead, gather some friends or younger family members and do the project with them.
In general, you’ll want to keep the projects you do with your senior as easy as possible. Simple designs with the fewer steps, the better. Think more along the line of children’s projects than complex arts and crafts for adults declining cognitive abilities.
Not Physically Intensive
You have to remember that in addition to having dementia, the loved one in your life is elderly as well. Their body doesn’t have the abilities it once did.
Some arts and crafts (like sewing or crocheting) may be painful or difficult for an older adult. If so, skip those and concentrate on the ones that won’t physically bother them.
We want to stress again the value of self-expression for dementia patients. If the project gives the senior a chance to showcase their feelings or points of view, then it’s a good one to sit down and do with them.
8 Simple Crafts For Adults With Dementia
Per the intro, here are eight arts and crafts that are appropriate for dementia patients. Each recommended craft meets the criteria above.
We’ve also included instructions and steps so you can show your senior parent or loved one how it’s done.
Activity 1: Craft A Scrapbook
Scrapbooking is a great activity because it is easy and the finished result makes a wonderful keepsake. Depending on the items you use, it can be great for reminiscence therapy, too.
Here’s how you do it.
Step 1: Choose A Theme
Before scrapbooking with your senior, the two of you need to pick a theme. Perhaps your theme is family, a certain time period, a holiday like Christmas, or a season such as summer. Let your senior have a say!
Step 2: Compile Photos
Once you know what your theme will be, it’s time to find photos that fit the theme. This might be something you do for your senior due to their dementia, but certainly, let them assist you if they’re interested.
Step 3: Gather Supplies
To make a beautiful scrapbook, head to local craft stores.
- an empty photo album
- patterned paper
- card stock
- a glue stick
- embellishments ranging from jewels to ribbons and everything in between (make sure they aren’t a choking hazard for someone in the later stages of dementia).
Step 4: Arrange Your Photos
With your senior by your side, determine what the layout of the scrapbook will be.
Once you’re happy with it, glue everything into place. Then add embellishments to make each page sparkle and shine!
Step 5: Add A Title, Journal Entries, Etc.
With card stock or decorative pens and markers, go in and title each page. You might want to add journal entries for the photos per page, but this is optional.
Activity 2: Roll Out And Decorate Cookie Dough
Here’s a yummy crafting activity to do with your senior parent or an older adult with dementia – making and baking cookie dough. This is an enjoyable way to get some quality time with your loved one and can be enjoyed despite cognitive or physical limitations.
In fact, one of my fondest memories after my mom was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, was making Christmas cookies with her (she was diagnosed at the beginning of the holiday season). I mixed the dough because she was too weak, but she was still able to drop spoonfuls of the dough onto a baking sheet (and enjoy eating the resulting cookies!).
The important thing was that we spent a wonderful afternoon together chatting, reminiscing, and laughing as we created our goodies.
Following Betty Crocker’s recipe, here are the ingredients and quantities you’ll need to make chocolate chip cookies:
- Semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
- Vanilla (1 teaspoon)
- Egg (1)
- Packed brown sugar (3/4 cup)
- Granulated sugar (3/4 cup)
- Softened butter (1 cup)
- Salt (1/2 teaspoon)
- Baking soda (1 teaspoon)
- All-purpose flour (2 ¼ cups)
Step 1: Mix The Dry Ingredients
Grab a small bowl and add the salt, baking soda, and flour, stirring with a whisk.
Step 2: Add Your Wet Ingredients
In a separate, bigger bowl, combine the sugars with the softened butter.
Plug in an electric mixer and stir the mix on medium speed for about a minute. You can also stir by hand, but in both cases, you should do this part, not your senior.
Step 3: Pour In The Remaining Ingredients
The cookie dough mixture should have a fluffy texture by this point. Next, add the vanilla and the beaten egg, then the flour.
Step 4: Add Chocolate Chips
Finally, dump in as many chocolate chips you as desire.
Step 5: Prep The Cookie Dough
Using a rolling pin, flatten the cookie dough. Feel free to use cookie cutters to punch out shapes.
Step 6: Bake The Cookies
Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about eight to 10 minutes. The cookies should be golden brown when they are done.
Remove them from the oven and let them cool for at least 10 minutes before eating them.
If needed, store any unbaked dough in a plastic container in the refrigerator and bake within 2 – 4 days (or store in the freezer up to two months).
Step 7 (Optional): Decorate
Decorate your tasty cookies as you and your senior wish!
Helpful tip: If you’d rather, you can always buy premade cookie dough. This saves you time on a lot of the above steps.
Learn more about Things To Do With Elderly When Stuck At Home.
Activity 3: Play With Play-Doh
Play-Doh is modeling dough that many kids tinkered with growing up. Reclaim the joys of your childhood and introduce your loved one with dementia to the fun of Play-Doh by crafting different shapes with it.
If you can’t find any Play-Doh at your local store, you can order it online or you can always make your own. The lifestyle blog, I Heart Naptime, has a great recipe for homemade play dough. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Food coloring
- Vegetable oil or coconut oil (2 tablespoons)
- Lukewarm water (2 cups)
- Cream of tartar (4 teaspoons)
- Salt (3/4 cup)
- All-purpose flour (2 cups)
Step 1: Combine The Dry And Wet Ingredients
Grab a large pot and add in the cream of tartar, salt, and flour, incorporating the ingredients. Then pour in the oil and water.
Step 2: Add Food Coloring
Squeeze in a few drops of the food coloring. Let your senior pick the color!
Step 3: Cook The Play Dough
Turn your stove burner on to medium-high; this is something you should do on your own. Cook the Play Dough ingredients for a couple of minutes, stirring as you go along. Eventually, the ingredients will thicken.
Step 4: Remove The Play Dough From The Heat
Turn the stove off and remove the pot. Transfer the homemade Play Dough to wax paper or a gallon-sized plastic bag.
Step 5: Play All Day
When the Play Dough has completely cooled, you and your senior can begin playing. Craft anything you wish!
Activity 4: Color Large-Print Coloring Books
This one is easy and doesn’t require any special steps. Browse online or treat your senior loved one to a shopping day to buy them a couple of coloring books that catch their eye. The print of the books should be large, as should the illustrations so your senior can see all the details.
If your senior is unable to use fine motor skills, they can still enjoy painting with water through special books that simply require a wet paintbrush to bring beautiful pictures to life!
There’s no wrong way to color, after all!
Activity 5: Make Paper Flowers
Paper flowers are gorgeous, and they never wilt or die. Making paper flowers also conveys a sense of purpose because you can create various cheerful decorations out of them once you’re done.
If you’re going to make some artificial flowers with your senior, crepe paper in bright colors is a great choice. It can rip, but it doesn’t do so as easily as lighter types of paper can (tissue paper, for example).
Here are the steps to follow to craft stunning, lifelike paper flowers.
Step 1: Make Templates
Cut out a template for each leaf and petal. The templates will help you and your senior along when making the flowers.
Step 2: Put Together The Stem
The stem of your faux flowers should be a wooden skewer. Cut the pointy tip off so your senior doesn’t hurt themselves. Then wrap green crepe paper and glue it around the skewer until you can’t see any wood.
Step 3: Assemble The Stamen
To make a flower’s stamen, cut a long strip of crepe paper. Next, make vertical slices into the top of the strip like you were cutting blades of grass into the paper. Wrap this piece of paper around the top of the stem and glue it into place. The stamen is ready.
Step 4: Glue The Petals
Take the petals you cut and assemble them naturally around the stamen, using a bit of glue to keep them secure.
Step 5: Cover The Bottom Of The Flower With Green Crepe Paper
To hide where all the flower petals join, take another thin strip of green crepe paper, layer it around the base of the flower, and then glue it into place.
Once you have several flowers finished, you can make decorative flower arrangements. Simply put florist foam in the bottom of a pretty plastic vase, then stick the stems into the foam. Voila!
Activity 6: Create Photo Collages
How about a fun photo collage on a rainy afternoon? If you and your senior with dementia have made scrapbooks before, then switching to collages won’t be too hard.
Again, you want to begin by selecting photos. These don’t have to come out of personal photo albums. Any old magazines, postcards, or even old greeting cards are up for grabs for your senior to take photos from.
Then it’s all about arranging the photos on decorative paper and gluing them on. If your senior wants embellishments, add them for some pizzazz using glue.
Activity 7: Assemble A Pine Cone Bird Feeder
Although your senior can’t handle the responsibility of a pet in their condition, they can still enjoy animals attracting birds with a bird feeder.
Here’s how to use pine cones to make a rustic bird feeder.
Step 1: Attach Twine To A Pine Cone
Select a good pine cone from the yard with your senior. The pine cone should be large and pretty. When you find the right one, tie some twine around it.
Step 2: Cover The Pine Cone In Peanut Butter
On its own, birds might not be attracted to the pine cone bird feeder, so help them along by giving them something they want to eat. Peanut butter is a great option.
To keep this project from getting messy, use a spatula or even a craft stick to rub peanut butter on the crevices of the pine cone.
Step 3: Add Birdseed
Atop the peanut butter, sprinkle some wild birdseed. Between the peanut butter and the birdseed, the local birds will find the bird feeder irresistible.
Step 4: Hang The Bird Feeder And Wait
Your homemade bird feeder is now done!
Hang it somewhere prominent where the birds can access it. Then head inside with your senior and wait for the birds to flock and feast!
Activity 8: Paint Rocks
Painting a blank canvas can be daunting for seniors, but a rock? That’s a smaller canvas that’s much more manageable.
To paint rocks, you simply need a fairly flat rock about the size of your palm, plus some acrylic paints, colored markers or pencil crayons
We have a handy video tutorial for painting rocks that you should check out!
Arts And Crafts Safety Tips
As you engage in the fun world of arts and crafts with your senior parent or loved one, make sure both you and they stay safe with these tips.
Use Safety Scissors
You’re free to use sharp-tipped scissors for cutting things out, but your senior with dementia should not. Give them a pair of safety scissors.
Safety scissors can still cut paper, but your senior is at a much lower risk of injury when working with a pair of these scissors.
Only Craft With Non-Toxic Play Doh
Whether it’s store-bought or homemade, double-check that the Play Doh you use is nontoxic. The original Play Doh has no allergens or toxic substances unless you have a wheat gluten allergy. Off-brand products could be toxic though.
Avoid Objects The Senior Might Try To Eat
Speaking of Play Doh, keep an eye on your senior when they’re playing with it. Dementia can cause your senior to make decisions that they normally wouldn’t, so they could attempt to eat some of the Play Doh.
Keep other items your senior might try to sample far away from them too.
Crafting with your senior can improve their cognition, which is especially important for dementia patients. Doing art activities together may also improve a senior’s communication skills and provide them with social connection, plus they are a fun outlet for creative expression.
We hope you try all the activities we’ve discussed with your senior loved one!