The Benefits of Coloring Art For The Elderly
Recognizing Alzheimers Through Art
When I was an Activities Director at a Rest Home in Minnesota, I worked with residents who exhibited stages of Dementia and Alzheimer's disease. It was my job to work on the top floor of the facility, the Alzheimer's Unit, and I tried to be creative in finding ways to engage the residents in fun activities both mentally and physically. As I was an artist myself, I decided to try using different art forms with the residents. I was warned by the staff that art had never worked before, and not to become too disappointed if my idea failed. I started a class anyway. First, I gave them some blank pieces of paper to paint and color on. However, they just looked at the paper and didn't seem to know what to do with it--it was a little overwhelming for them. Next, I drew some pictures for them to color. The more detailed the pictures, the more they seemed to enjoy coloring them. Eventually, I observed certain coloring patterns were emerging in the way these residents were coloring their pictures, and the patterns seemed to be consistent with them. Later, while doing art with other residents on the lower floor, I happened to notice that one of them, while coloring his picture, was using the same coloring patterns as those on the Alzheimer's unit. He was later diagnosed as an Alzheimer's patient. When I spoke with the experts there, who worked and studied Alzheimer's disease, they were surprised with the information that I gave them. They told me that they had never heard of using art in this way with their group of the elderly. My work with the residents in the art classes that I developed, proved to me that this coloring art not only provided recreational activities for the elderly there, but also seemed to be a means of early detection of Alzheimer's disease.
Developing Coloring Books For The Elderly
When I worked at the Rest Home in Minnesota, I was discouraged by the coloring book art that I was able to find available in stores. Most of the coloring books were designed for little children with cartoon-like characters. So, being an artist myself, I developed my own pictures for the residents to color. Later, I moved away and never did anything with this art. Now, however, finding myself in a similar situation of working with the elderly again, I started to develop new pictures for them to color. I found out that others that worked with the senior population had the same problem. A co-worker was using coloring book art designed for children in her activities. Although this coloring time was still very worthwhile for her residents, it seemed to me that the pictures were not age appropriate for the group. As a result, and because of my own background in the field of art and design and years in the field of working with the elderly, I started my own coloring book for seniors and made copies for her group to color. This first book, which is now in print, is called "The Vintage Coloring Book". I have since found, in Japan, they have learned the value of coloring art for the elderly. They are using this to maintain motor skills and fitness for seniors in many nursing-care facilities there. I hope that eventually we might promote this same thing in our country, and provide this fun and creative means to benefit our own elderly--and possibly, one day, use art to detect early Alzheimer's tendencies.