Looking for a dementia-friendly gift idea? A coloring book could be a great choice, but not just any coloring book will do: Here are the top five things to look for in a coloring book for your loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s, along with some of our favorites.
Coloring is a simple hobby with major benefits — benefits that go well beyond keeping kids entertained while waiting for the food to arrive at a restaurant. For grown-ups, studies have shown that coloring for just 20 minutes a day can increase mindfulness, reduce stress and improve one’s mood. Accordingly, a niche market of adult coloring books has exploded into the mainstream. See: Boss Babes, a coloring book featuring female figures of influence from Beyoncé to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the full series of “Snarky Adult Coloring Books”, or Calm the F*ck Down: An Irreverent Adult Coloring Book, which made the list of Oprah’s 25 favorites.)
Just as the mental health benefits of coloring span the age spectrum, they span the spectrum of cognitive health including adults living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. One small study found evidence that performing art therapy-related activities with caregivers, including coloring, may be able to help dementia’s behavioral and psychological symptoms, improve social skills and lighten the load for caregivers.
“Coloring in is not a passive act,” Philippa Perry, a psychotherapist, wrote in her piece for The Guardian. “You need to make creative decisions about which colors to choose and, while you concentrate on not going over the lines, other parts of your mind may be freed up in ways that allow you to become more creative.”
There are motor skill benefits, too: Using soft pens or pencils that are easy to hold has also shown to improve finger flexibility and hand-eye coordination in the participant, fostering improved communication between them and their caregivers.
But when it comes to finding the best coloring medium for someone with dementia, not all books are created equal. Here, we highlight the top five things to look for.
1. Understanding the Person with Dementia’s Needs
Take note of your loved one’s visual acuity, concentration level, motor skills and what brings them joy. All of these factor into the coloring experience and must not be overlooked when purchasing a book. Maria Shriver’s Color Your Mind: A Coloring Book for Those with Alzheimer’s and the People Who Love Them, is a good option for someone with mild cognitive impairment, but not for someone who is further along in their dementia progression, as some of the text and images prove to be a bit complex.
2. Keep it Simple
Coloring is meant to be a soothing activity, but often books can showcase complex designs that require great attention to detail and skill. Simpler designs with uncomplicated details are best for those with dementia. Choose a book with larger images, making sure to avoid intricate details and surrealistic, dream-like templates, which may confuse or irritate the colorer. Easy Adult Coloring Book for Beginners: A Simple Large Print Coloring Book for Seniors and Beginners contains 50 unique, yet uncomplicated designs like plants, butterflies and nature scenes, which promote stress release and relaxation.
3. Bigger is Better
Look for books with larger spaces to color instead of small, intricate details which can create unnecessary strain on eyes, or prove difficult for those with hand control issues. Pick images with thick, dark lines that are fairly easy to color within, so that there isn’t the need for super-fine markers or pens. The Coloring Book For Seniors: Anti-Stress Designs contains beautiful designs that are zoomed in so they are easier to see and color, making it a great option for those with vision troubles or decreased motor skills.
4. One-Sided Pages with Thick Paper
This tip may sound insignificant, but it can make or break the experience: Making sure the book has thick paper and is not double-sided will prevent bleed-through and make it suitable for marker pens. Added bonus: you can remove the page to frame the image or give to someone as a gift. Expressions of Nature Coloring Book: Create, Color, Pattern, Play contains single-side, perforated page designs on extra-thick paper, which detach easily so can remove your art once it’s done, to frame or gift.
5. Meaningful Subject Matter
Learn what your loved one most enjoys and find them a book that taps into that. If they find joy in nature, for example, buying a book that has images of the outdoors will not only fulfill their coloring needs, but also will serve as a vessel to spark memories. Kensington Press Colouring Book for Adults With Dementia does just that. Nostalgic subject matter — like delicious food, animals and imagery that evokes the 1960s — are there specifically to prompt reminiscing. Not every image will resonate with every individual, but the diversity in theme increases the likelihood they’ll find something to connect with.