We all have childhood memories of lifting the lid on a new box of crayons, eyeing all those beautiful colors with nice, sharpened tips, and diving into a coloring book world that was ours to adorn with hues of our choosing. Coloring is a form of self-expression – an opportunity to “color in” the world as you see it (are tree trunks really brown?) or as you imagine it to be. For older adults with dementia, research shows coloring can be a path to self expression – a non-verbal way to communicate thoughts and feelings; and an enjoyable activity to share with others.
Choosing colors, filling in shapes – the science
The action of coloring requires the two hemispheres of the brain to communicate. While logic helps us to color in shapes and forms, choosing colors generates a creative thought process. The creative part of the brain can remain intact for years in persons with dementia, making creative expression and use of the imagination retained abilities that older adults can bring to coloring. A focus on these strengths, rather than deficits, will help those with dementia engage with the experience of coloring in a meaningful way.
Making coloring accessible in the home
A big basket of colorful markers and a coloring book might be inviting to some, but individuals with dementia will engage for longer periods with more success when the environment is modified to be more user friendly for their needs. With a little planning and preparation families/care partners can guide elders to coloring success.
Below is a summary of ideas and guidance to help those in family settings make coloring accessible for loved ones with dementia. This summary is supported in detail in each of our TimeTogether™ Coloring sets with step by step instructions, picture references, supply lists and more.
- Begin with a focus on the colorer’s strengths and interests. Knowing the individual’s past roles, hobbies, work, etc. and observing current interests will provide guidance. Dispel the notion that coloring is “simple busy work” for older adults. As a means for creative expression coloring has value and should enhance quality of life, not just fill the time.
- Choose quality paper, illustrations and coloring tools that match the individuals interests and abilities. A gardener, for example, might enjoy coloring “flower portraits” to frame and give as gifts. Persons with dementia want to find purpose in their work, contribute to their family/community, and enjoy a sense of accomplishment when completing a coloring project.
- Prepare a dedicated space for coloring that meets the colorer’s needs. In the home this means setting up an accessible table for two that is for coloring/art projects only. Choose an inviting location with lots of good light. Keep the table supplied for one coloring project (one picture) at a time. This approach supports memory – the person with dementia will know what to expect and what to do at the coloring table, as will anyone who colors with them.
- Break down the process of coloring into manageable steps that reflect the needs and abilities of the colorer. Some elders may require less assistance – others may need a step by step approach to find success.
- Color together and everyone benefits! Coloring calms the brain and evokes feelings of joyfulness and satisfaction creating a relaxing atmosphere for all participants. Coloring together side by side with your loved one opens the door to communication and an exchange of ideas and memories. It is precious time together that affirms and strengthens relationships, elevates self esteem, and honors the capabilities and creativity of our elders.
TimeTogether™ Coloring sets can be purchased with Stories for Older Adults™ on related themes. Reading and coloring within the same context supports memory. Click on the link for these specially priced TimeTogether™ Companion Activities.