Pictures that “Pop”: Colouring with Success in Dementia Care

By:  Gail Elliot, Founder, DementiAbility Enterprises Inc.

In the past few years, colouring has become a favourite pastime for people of all ages.  In dementia care, this trend has also been catching on. It is wonderful to see that people with all different levels of cognitive and/or physical ability are now spending their leisure time showcasing their inner creativity. Having said that, there is still much to be done when it comes to introducing people with dementia to colouring.  Regardless of whether a person in your care enjoyed colouring in the past, he/she may enjoy colouring now.  However, you might benefit from thinking about using DementiAbility’s WOW Model (including needs, interests, skills and abilities) when considering what might work best.

When individuals are challenged by either cognitive and/or physical challenges, traditional colouring pages may not set a person up for success.  DementiAbility teaches care partners to think about the needs, interests, skills and abilities of each person when making decisions about “What to do” (the last W in the WOW Model).  When thinking about what types of pages might be best, it is important to consider interests from the past, including what types of pictures would be of interest now (such as cars versus shoes or flowers). It is also important to think about the individual’s current abilities, and skills from the past.  When thinking about abilities, it is important to determine how simple or complex a colouring page should be and whether the person would be better suited to markers versus paints or colouring pencils.  Those with mild cognitive impairment are often able to tackle more intricate designs and shapes, while those with more advanced cognitive and/or physical impairment may need something quite simple. Moreover, one needs to consider whether perceptual deficits, visual challenges and/or fine more skills might impact the ability to stay inside the lines of the item that is being coloured.  

With each of these considerations in mind, DementiAbility has created colouring books that that are aimed at setting individuals up for success.  When we first introduced our colouring books, we created five colouring book titles with a black background.  Why?  I had learned that a black background can set people up for success. When I introduced my mom to colouring, in the later stage of her dementia, I gave her a canvas to colour (with bright markers) that had an image with a black background (unlike the traditional colouring pages that has a white background/on a white page).  Her first masterpiece was beautiful.  Since that had been so successful, I found another canvas for her and I left it with her it to work on when she had time on her own.  When I returned, I found she had started it but didn’t finish it.  I asked her why. She said she didn’t like it.  Upon closer examination, I could see she had “gone over the lines” and tried to rub out the “mistakes”.  I then looked closer at the other piece of art. She had gone over the lines on that one too, but with a black background it was not obvious to the eye.  Voila! A new way of thinking about colouring in dementia care – and other areas of care where people benefit from being “set up for success”.

Mike Browne, our artist, has now created all of our books into a series called, “Pictures that Pop”.  The first set of colouring books did not have the black background on every page, but as we replace our existing stock, all will be on a black background.  At the moment, DementiAbility has 11 colouring books (visit to place an order).  The easiest book, for people with few cognitive abilities, is “Shapes”.  The other books have a variety of images that are set up for people with different abilities.  The books with a black background include shoes, sports equipment, sports, shoes, dogs and flowers.  Amazon also has some of these titles, making the books available internationally using your local/county’s Amazon website (search for DementiAbility colouring books “Pictures that Pop”).  If you live outside of Canada, Amazon is a great choice, because you don’t have to pay excessive shipping charges or duty.  

As we say in the book, “Get out your markers, coloured pencils, crayons and paints – and have fun!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *