Adult children and caregivers of seniors with dementia know the challenges of dealing with the disease’s progressive decline. For some, it may begin with the inability to come up with the right word or name, or forgetting something they just read or were told. It often progresses to trouble choosing proper clothing, an increased tendency to wander, and difficulties communicating.

But even those people living with late-stage dementia, despite their inability to speak or altered speech, continue to try to communicate. After all, as humans, they have thoughts, needs and emotions to express; sometimes by body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice.

Interestingly, arts and crafts have proven to be a successful way to tap into those thoughts, needs and emotions. You may find that you can make the most of the time you and your senior loved one have by creating something together.

Benefits of Arts and Crafts for Seniors with Dementia

Reduced stress. Working on crafts can improve concentration, heighten confidence and self-esteem, and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Reconnection. As their dementia progresses, the senior may become increasingly withdrawn. Yet art, like music, can awaken something in their memory. He or she may not remember what happened a few minutes ago, but may recall the lyrics to a tune from 50 years in the past. And as they express that memory, they also reconnect with the people around them. Similarly, those feelings may arise as they paint, draw, or color.

Decreased agitation. One symptom of dementia is agitation, possibly due to changes in the senior’s environment, caregiver arrangements, misperceived threats to their safety, or just trying to make sense of an increasingly confusing world. Arts and crafts can provide a positive focus and an outlet to express their moods and thoughts, which translates into more stable emotions.

Heightened senses. Increased stimulation by working with colors, patterns, and textures may reawaken sensory perceptions and help them reconnect with the world around them.

Crafts and Creative Activities

Collages. Create theme-based collages from photographs, newsprint, fabric, magazine articles, sand, shells, plants, and found objects. They are a fun way to experiment with shapes, layout, and textures. Lay them out with your senior on a sturdy piece of paper to determine their final location before gluing them.

Greeting cards. You and your senior can work together to create handmade greeting cards.

Do an activity based on employment history. If your senior has a history of working with his or her hands, projects like creating birdhouses or painting unfinished wooden cars may be perfect for them.

Attach pipe and fittings. Putting together and taking apart plastic pipe fittings may fill seniors with pleasant memories of their work.

Clay modeling. Air-dry modeling clay is the simplest of the clays to use. There are online instructions for crafting fun and useful items.

Cutting out shapes with cookie cutters in Play-Dough can also be enjoyable.

Paint-by-numbers. Paint-by-numbers kits enable seniors with dementia to complete a painting by following simple instructions. The kits range from easy to hard. Grandchildren or great-grandchildren might be able to assist with a less challenging paint-by-numbers kit.

Puzzles. Assembling puzzles helps with creating focus and concentration on the task at hand. Puzzles for people with dementia can range from 13 to 100 pieces to accommodate the ability of the senior

Arranging flowers. A vase, a few artificial flowers and some florist foam will allow the senior to create his or her own floral arrangement.

Create a spelling tray. Stick colorful magnetic letters on a metal tray to spell out familiar words or just play with shapes and colors. A baking sheet with raised sides can work as a tray.

Create a memory box. Take any kind of box—a shoebox would be perfect—and help your senior fill it with items from his or her past. If they enjoyed cooking, put in some measuring spoons, if they worked in an office, include paper clips, pencils, paper, and maybe a calculator.

Pattern blocks and boards. With pattern blocks and boards, seniors can experiment with colors and shapes as they fill wooden boards with colorful wooden pieces.

Visit Bethesda’s Care & Services blog to find more activities that boost senior wellbeing.