Anything But Bingo

Resources to enhance the daily life of people living with dementia


Lacing cards (or sewing cards) are a simple way to enable someone to sew if they feel they cannot manage a more complex sewing task. Poor vision, loss of fine motor control, limited concentration skills and lack of confidence can cause a once avid crafter to stop altogether. Finding ways to simplify a task so that enjoyment of a favourite hobby can resume is a large part of my job. I aim to ensure that the activities are meaningful and not patronising and lacing cards are a prime example.

Lacing cards are designed for children. They are a great way to develop fine motor skills and introduce sewing. I've put an example here of cards most definitely aimed at the younger child, and therefore a little inappropriate to use with an older person.

Melissa & Doug lacing cards

With a little creativity or by searching the internet it is also possible to find lacing cards which are more versatile and ones which I would feel comfortable using with an adult. Here are some links to free, printable lacing cards which I think you might like to use;

These bright colourful cards are better when printed on coloured card / paper as in the photo but are just as fun on white.

Sewing cards


For nature lovers the graphic illustrations here are unusual and straightforward.

Sewing cards

 I have also found some Autumn themed cards and in plenty of time for Christmas, some fun festive lacing

Unless you have a printer that allows you to print these lovely lacing cards on thick card you will need to do a little work on the pictures before you can use them. I have found that sticking them onto some cardboard (I used a delivery box but a cereal box would do just as well) and then cutting out gave a nice sturdy result. Depending on the thickness of the card a ballpoint pen can make holes ready for sewing through, or you could use a hole punch in some cases.

The sewing can be done with a needle and embroidery thread or a shoe lace. I recently bought some children's plastic needles which are a safer alternative to a metal needle with sharp point.

You may feel it is a fun and constructive activity as it is, however I like the idea of using a sewn card as the basis for a greetings card or to be framed so that the effort has been for a recognisable gain. I feel uncomfortable asking someone to sew and then behind their back undo it so they can start again.

I am aware that I have slightly contradicted myself from my first blog post about the appropriateness of children's toys for adults; I have discounted the child-like lacing cards in favour of more 'grown up' alternatives. My approach to dementia care is constantly evolving, particularly as I have started to learn from the best teachers; people living with dementia and their care partners. I do think there is room for child-like toys on my activity shelves but I have also a line drawn in the sand.




Story telling is as old as the hills, is loved by young and old, is free and can be done anywhere and at any time. For these reasons alone it is therefore the perfect activity to do with an individual or group of people living with dementia.

Story telling as an activity can be done in many different ways and how you approach it will depend on who you are doing it with; what their capabilities are, what their interests are, if you are in a group or with an individual. I have outlined 4 different ways to use story telling and hope it inspires you to have a go.


Story telling with children

  • This is a great way to bring children and adults together and if the adult is living with dementia that isn't a barrier to story telling. Younger children's books tend to have larger print, less words on each page and pictures to give context; so these can be easier books, for someone whose reading skills are diminishing, to read to a child.
  • All children need to practice their reading skills and are usually happy to find a willing volunteer to listen to them reading their "Biff and Chip" early readers! I talk about involving children with story telling in my guest blog for AllyBallyBee, a project aiming to create a book for children to help explain dementia.


Adult to adult

  • I have found that reading to someone who has lost the ability to read for himself is generally a well received activity. It is important to choose your reading material with care; a topic that is interesting to the listener, not too long or too short. It doesn't need to be a fictional book either, the newspaper, a magazine, the Readers Digest may all be suitable material to read aloud. Remember to read with enthusiasm too - make it interesting!


  • There is also a wonderful opportunity here for adults with dementia to read to one another if you are working in a group setting. I recently started to learn about an organisation called the Eden Alternative. Their vision is to eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom amongst older people. Three of Eden Alternative's 10 domains of wellbeing that often get forgotten when someone develops dementia are; growth (developing and enriching your life), connectedness (being engaged and involved with others) and meaning (having purpose). I think all three of these can be improved by encouraging one person who has dementia, but is still able to read, to read to another who can't. Maybe John could read the newspaper headlines to Mary every morning over breakfast, or Betty could read Doug his favourite poem every evening. Both individuals benefit; the reader is engaging with the people living alongside them, is contributing to their community and is enriching their own life. The benefits for the listener go without saying.


creative story telling

  • Timeslips is an example of how someone with dementia can enjoy creative story telling. Timeslips is an American organisation that teaches facilitators to lead a creative story telling experience. Each participant has a copy of the same image and the facilitator asks open questions to draw out ideas about the picture and create a story from the responses. Everyone's contribution is validated whether it 'makes sense' or not and the facilitator regularly reads back the story as they progress, to remind the story tellers what they have already contributed. This approach has been hugely successful in my own work. I am not a trained Timeslips facilitator but have used the basic idea to run a similar activity. Each time the group has been engaged, laughed, made inspired contributions and amazed even the most sceptical of onlooking staff! Here's an extract of one of our stories and the image that inspired it:


"The boy is pinching biscuits in the house, that’s why he’s hiding. But the dog has spotted him and the dog will get the blame.

The boy is full of mischief; everyone is going to have a great time. He’s a nice boy, his name is Andrew. The dog is called Dog or Me Too.

The boy has said “come in, be quiet, here’s a biscuit”. He should remember that the dog can eat faster.

There is a smell of flowers, grass, food, chocolate biscuits and the dog.

In the end the boy takes the dog for a walk. Maybe also the dog is warning him the boss is coming home. The boy would shove the biscuits in front of the dog and get away with it. If he did get caught his mummy would just be happy that he was safe and ok.



Sensory stories

My experience with sensory stories is mixed. Several years ago my son was lucky enough to go to a birthday party at which a sensory story-teller gave the most amazing rendition of George's Marvellous medicine. The story teller bought the tale to life with potions to taste, sound effects that enthralled and 'medicines' to smell. The audience which included children with a range of additional support needs was captivated, as was I.

More recently I invited a local story teller to the care home in which I was working. Her props were diverse and interesting but the lack of narrative, engagement and enthusiasm left all but the most dedicated listener behind.

With these two experiences in mind I am still sure that sensory story telling could be a fun, informative and social experience as a 1:1 or group activity with the following advice;

  • Have a good story. If necessary use a well known story as your basis and consider if your audience would appreciate an age-appropriate tale.
  • If you are presenting to a group be energetic and engaging. Don't be embarrassed.
  • Try to involve all of the 5 senses with props, sound effects etc; vision, hearing , touch, smell and taste.
  • Take your time to let each participant experience the props you use, taking them round the circle.
  • Be prepared!

Have you been inspired to try some story telling in your home or work? Please let me know in the comments section. If you've enjoyed this post and found it useful please spread the word by emailing it to a friend or sharing the link on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you.





BAKE OFF FOR THE FAINT HEARTED: baking packet mixes and their usefulness for people living with dementia

7 days and 7 baking packet mixes; are they tasty, easy to use and why would you find them useful if you are baking with someone who is living with dementia?

I have to admit to being a bit sniffy about packet mixes. I love cooking and find baking pretty straightforward. Baking from scratch is a perfectly reasonable activity for someone with dementia and as an activity to do with a care giver. However I can also see some significant benefits to simplifying baking in some situations and for that the packet mix could be a valuable addition to the kitchen.


Which Cake mixes did I choose?

  Shop £ cost £ Extra ingredients £ Total cost
Dr Oetker Lemon Mug Cake Morrisons 0.75 0.03 0.78
Wrights Baking Ginger Cake Mix Morrisons 1.62 0.01 1.63
Morrisons Triple Chocolate Cookie Mix Morrisons 0.95 0.08 1.03
Betty Crocker Devil's Food Cake Mix and Chocolate Frosting Sainsbury's 3.65 0.47 4.12
Sainsbury's Victoria Sponge Cake Mix Sainsbury's 1.90 0.70 2.60
Betty Winters Red Velvet Cupcake Mix B&M Stores 0.99 0.20 1.19
Thorntons Marbled Cheesecake B&M Stores 1.19 1.43 2.62


(Apart from the supermarket's own mixes most of the products are also available in other shops. Costs for extra ingredients taken from



I've baked them all, eaten too much and asked for feedback from family, colleagues and friends.


This is what we thought......

Dr Oetker Lemon Mug Cake

Mug cakes are a trend amongst bloggers, teenagers and book publishers. Honestly, you'd have to be pretty desperate for cake to make this packet mix. It was very easy to make, just add some milk, mix it and microwave for just over a minute. The result is a rubbery, tasteless, unnatural flavour that looks as unappetising as it tastes. Definitely a thumbs down.


Wrights Baking Ginger Cake Mix

If you can manage to read the tiny type on the back of the packet this is a very tasty cake. The ginger flavour is intense (in a good way), it rose nicely and looked great. I made the mix as a tray bake but alternatively you can make it into cupcakes or muffins and there are some nice ideas on the packet for additional ingredients such as chopped nuts to add and make the cake more interesting.


Morrisons Triple Chocolate Cookie Mix

By far the tastiest bake, this is the one I have to admit to eating the lions share! If I make them again I will err on the side of cooking for lower end of the recommended cooking time so that they are a nice gooey texture rather than the crispy biscuit result I achieved. Great milk chocolate taste and quite easy to do. I made 9 cookies rather than the 6 they suggest on the packet and used melted butter so that I could stir it rather than have to rub it in (lower skill level).


Betty Crocker Devil's Food Cake Mix and Chocolate Frosting

I nearly didn't buy any of the Betty Crocker range as I was quite irritated by having to buy the frosting separately which added a significant cost and made this the most expensive mix to buy. My husband and I weren't too keen on the cake's taste "very sweet and cocoa flavoured" although the texture of the sponge was great. However my daughter took most of the cake to school and it got a resounding thumbs up from a hoard of hungry teenagers!


Sainsbury's Victoria Sponge Cake Mix

Probably the most fiddly of all the mixes with 3 different components, this packet resulted in a very acceptable cake. I took it to a friend's for tea and both adults and children agreed it was light, had a strong vanilla flavour and the flavour was reminiscent of sponge fingers. The jam provided is very sweet and looks particularly unappetising in the plastic pouches but once put together it looks pretty.


Betty Winters Red Velvet Cupcake Mix

I was pleased to see the cupcake cases included in the box, but there was too much mix for the 6 cases and they overflowed. The sponge was a little rubbery but they were saved by the icing which definitely benefits from using proper butter.  I also like the fact that they include the decorative sprinkles.


Thorntons Marbled Cheesecake

Easy to read instructions and looks pretty but the general consensus was that this only tasted "ok". The added ingredients make this quite an expensive bake, the method includes a lot of chilling time in the fridge and there was a lot of washing up at the end.


And the winners are .....

Best value: Morrisons Triple Chocolate Cookie Mix     Great taste for a fantastic price.

Best all-rounder: Wrights Baking Ginger Cake Mix   Still at the value end of the range, the flavour was natural and memorable and it was very easy to make. Suggestions of other optional ingredients means you can remake the same cake again with a variety of results.

Best for feeding a crowd (of hungry teenagers): Betty Crocker Devil's Food Cake Mix and Chocolate Frosting    Bit sweet and way too expensive for my taste and budget but I can't ignore the feedback!

Booby prize: Dr Oetker Lemon Mug Cake   Really, don't bother


Tips on using cake mixes.

  • Often the cake size you are making is smaller than you might be used to if you cook regularly from scratch. For example the Wrights Ginger cake as a tray bake was significantly smaller than I would normally make a tray bake, and so make sure you have the correct tins before you start.
  • Many of the mixes tell you to use an electric hand whisk. Bearing in mind not everyone owns one, and a care home may not have access to one, I only used a hand / balloon whisk and each of those cakes still rose and was airy and light.
  • If you can, use proper butter rather than a margerine or butter spread. The taste is much better and probably masks the 'packet mix' flavour.
  • When the instructions tell you to use softened butter make sure it really is nice and soft. It will result in lump free butter icing and an easy mix. You can soften butter which has been kept in the fridge by cutting it into squares and submerging in hand warm water for a minute or two. Strain off the water and you are left with lovely soft butter.


Why use packet baking mixes as an activity with someone with dementia.

I want to re-emphasise that there is no reason to automatically assume that with the diagnosis of dementia comes the end of all normal activity. If you have dementia and still enjoy and are able to cook then keep baking! If you are working with, or are the care partner of someone with dementia and you have the skill and facilities to bake from scratch then do it. There are some circumstance though for which I think packet mixes are ideal. If you want to bake with someone but

  • don't know one end of a spatula from the other
  • the person with dementia has limited attention span or tires easily
  • you don't have access to a well equipped kitchen
  • you don't want to keep lots of ingredients in the house that you are unlikely to finish
  • you work in a setting which gives you a limited time to cook

then take your pick from the mixes I've tried, or see what you can find in your local shops and bake!


Memory Boxes for people with dementia - Making it personal

Memory Boxes are taking hold and gaining popularity amongst trainers, therapists and care homes.

I have taken a very personal approach to researching how to put together a memory box and how it might be used. This has been a very self indulgent exercise and one which has thrown up as many questions as answers.

A memory box is a container in which memorabilia, meaningful items and representative things are put. Anecdotal evidence shows a therapeutic benefit for the elderly and people with dementia when the box is used to stimulate memories, feelings and conversation. But how do you put together a memory box? What should you put in it? I decided to make my own memory box and share that experience and what I have learnt.

(There are other types of memory boxes. Themed boxes on a subject like 'make do and mend' or 'school days' are more of a generic reminiscence aid. Some care homes are using wall mounted 'memory boxes' which are put outside each resident's room to help them locate themselves. This post is looking at very personal and unique memory boxes which are used on a 1:1 basis.)

Which box?

A white cardboard box for me, it's plain and boring but does the job. What are the options? Really anything you can put your hands on. I love the idea of someone's memory box being their old picnic hamper or briefcase, but really anything will do. I would bear in mind that if it is a large container don't be tempted to fill it to the brim or you won't be able to rummage or ever feel like you have looked at everything before attention starts to wane. Much of the advice I have read elsewhere suggests using a box small enough to fit on someone's lap. I disagree as I find a box of items on the lap of someone with dementia can be overwhelming and confusing. I have found that having a box nearby, on a neighbouring table allows you to draw attention to it and present one or two items at a time.

Collecting for my memory box - what didn't make the cut

When I first thought about make my own memory box I wrote a list of things I thought would go in. My first surprise was that some of the items on that list didn't actually end up in my box. For example I love cooking and have done since I was a child. When I came to my book shelf none of my cookery books sparked any kind of emotional feelings, even books I've had for 35 years. In a similar way my art and craft supplies were also bypassed and in their place I chose a selection of stickers bought when I was a child. These remind me of going in "itty bitty shops" where I would buy stickers, erasers and pencils with my mum. This was my second lesson ; ideally the choice is an emotional and personal one. It might not be the items that signify events or interests in someone's life, but more the things with a story or specific memory attached to them that will evoke the most feeling.

It worries me that this isn't a helpful lesson for me to share. If you are putting together a memory box for someone else you may not have their emotional and personal perspective to directly draw from. However if you can recall stories that your loved one has shared with you, or things that you have repeatedly laughed or cried at these are more likely the ones that will elicit the best reminiscence rather than everyday experiences that hold little emotional draw.

How would my memory box change over time if I had dementia?

While I created my memory box I was very aware that it is a snapshot of my life as I see it and feel it now. For example new hobbies and interests don't feature as they didn't feel important enough, and people who who have passed away feature more heavily. I think because I am used to relying on physical reminders of those loved ones, such as things my late father made, they have a greater 'feeling' to them. This makes me wonder how you might need to adapt someone's memory box as their recollections change and memories are harder to reach. So my third lesson is that memory boxes should change as the memory of the person they are for also changes. If your friend or relative no longer recalls her days as a teacher then her class register might cause confusion. Instead swap it for a photo of her uncle that she now regularly refers to.

Using a sensory approach

Amongst my treasures are things to look at such as photos and letters and things to touch like my old doll and a wooden toy. I would also like to add a bottle with the scent of aviation fuel ... weird I know but having lived on military airbases for the earlier years of married life I associate the smell with a special time. I would also like a recording of my son's communication aid that he uses to talk; maybe saying "Mummy cuddle", and a copy of Don McLean's 'American Pie'.  If you are interested in using music for reminiscence take a look at the late Oliver Sacs' wonderful book, Musicophilia, in which he looks at the beneficial effect music can have on people living with dementia. To address the sense of taste think it would have to be Cadbury Dairy Milk! We know that sensory approaches to working with people with dementia are very valuable and I think a memory box is no exception.  Lesson four is therefore to take a multi sensory approach and include things that stimulate as many senses as possible.

What about putting valuables in your memory box?

Almost every other source of advice that I have found about memory boxes suggests that you don't put in anything of value. I can understand this if the box is to be left in a care home for all to access. If it were my memory box, however, I would be sad not to have the silver bracelet that my Mum bought for me in a posh jewellers in Kensington for my 18th, or the costume jewellery Christmas tree brooch the elderly lady next door gave me when I was 7. My solution is to have a special memory box that you can bring out at home to look at together and then put away again safely afterwards, or take it with you when you visit someone in a care home and take away again afterwards. That way you can share memories about treasured and maybe valuable items without fear of them going astray.  So please don't be put off making your memory box a real treasure trove, just be mindful where it is kept.

Might a memory box cause distress to someone with dementia?

Possibly, and so my final lesson is that we must be attentive, sensitive and willing to adapt. Into my box I have put a wooden duck that my Dad made and a ruler that he used, and signed his name on (my father died when I was 7). Right now those items make me feel comfortable and happy as they are a connection with someone I lost so long ago. It is entirely possible though that if I was living with dementia and experiencing the world differently those things might be quite upsetting for me. In this case we can react straight away by removing those object from the memory box and replacing them with something else. I'd like to explore a caveat here though. I think there is a danger in trying to avoid all negative feelings when we are working with or spending time with someone with dementia. The "please don't cry", "please don't be upset" reaction. But feelings, even sad ones are valid, and need to be acknowledged, so finding a balance is my aim. A little sadness as we remember people lost to us is normal and healthy. But of course more extreme distress, anger or confusion caused by any reminiscence would be counterproductive. 

I would recommend you all to explore the idea of memory boxes, if only to think about or hopefully create your own. From a professional stand point I think it is even more valuable to have a personal experience of putting a memory box together to allow you to really engage with the ideas behind what reminiscence is all about. If you are reading this as a relative or friend of someone living with dementia I hope that this has given you a different and more personal perspective to read alongside some of the other advice on memory boxes and that it will inspire you to create one and, most importantly use it!


YouTube is free and easy to use and offers endless choice so take a look at some of my suggestions and start surfing!

If you have access to a desktop computer, laptop, Ipad or tablet there are numerous ways to use them to have fun and learn, and there is no reason that someone living with any level of dementia shouldn't also benefit from this technology. I will look at Apps and other uses of technology another day but for now I am going to focus on using YouTube.

If you haven't come across YouTube before it is a video sharing website. Individuals and organisations post videos and anyone can watch them for free.


Reminiscence is a well researched approach that has beneficial effects for older people and especially those with dementia. Newer memories tend to be the first memories to be lost as the disease progresses so looking back at events from further in the past can be reassuring and comforting. How can you use YouTube for reminiscence? This is where a person centred approach is key. Focus on the individuals own interests, history and preferences.

  • Did the person you are working with love Rock and Roll, Elvis or an opera you have never heard of? Did they used to roar with laughter at Only Fools and Horses or Monty Python? If you type any of these words into the search box on the YouTube website you will get a huge list of clips to watch. 
  • Newsworthy events from the past can also be good triggers for reminiscence. British Pathe has it's own YouTube channel where you can find newsreels on the Monarchy, Concorde's first flight, VE day celebrations and so much more.


  • One of the most successful YouTube films that I have used was a compilation of babies laughing. A lady I worked with who was nearing the end of her journey with dementia was captivated with these films and would laugh and try to tickle the babies on the screen. This lady had also enjoyed spending times with dolls so it was a natural choice to show her these beautiful joyful babies. On seeing this lady laughing at the film other residents and staff also began laughing. The room lit up. Laughter is contagious!
  • There are also a multitude of films about animals too, so a search for 'funny cats' or 'cute dogs' will give you a long list of choices.


  • Are you doing an art project based on a famous artist? We did some work about the glass artist Chihuly and found a great short film about his installations. It adds a little extra to your project.
  • If you are trying a new craft project there are countless tutorials on anything and everything you can imagine. Many of these tutorials are presented by children. I found this one was a refreshing choice of film type as the ladies I was working with enjoyed watching the children at work (and there are some funny bloopers at the end of this particular example!).


  • The opportunity for learning from YouTube is extensive. Pick your subject and search. National Geographic has a great channel to explore.
  • There is also a wealth of information if you want to learn about dementia yourself. I can highly recommend any of Teepa Snow's films,  Alzheimers Society has a library of films on their channel as does Alzheimer Scotland. If you are looking for craft projects or cooking advice you can start your search on YouTube.

General Advice

  • I would always check films before you use or watch them with someone with dementia. Some videos are poor quality or there might be large subtitles that could be distracting, or even have unsuitable content slipped in.
  • You will need an internet connection to access YouTube and its videos. There are apps and websites that enable you to download YouTube videos to watch offline. This contravenes YouTube's policies.
  • It might sound obvious but if the person you are with has difficulty concentrating for long periods make sure you chose shorter films. When you search for videos on YouTube it lists the results. A black box is shown in the bottom right hand corner  of each result showing the length of the film in hours:minutes so you can choose suitable videos.
  • It helps to keep a collection of films that have been successful or you think might be nice to try. At the top of the YouTube website is a 'sign in' box. This will take you to either register for a Google account or Sign in if you already have one. Once you have an account you can set up playlists and save your chosen videos.
  • Sometimes adverts or comments appear along the bottom of the screen when you are watching YouTube films. If you hover your mouse over the comment box a cross (x) should appear on the right which you can 'click' to remove the comment box.
  • You can expand the box in which the film is showing to fill your comupter screen by clicking on the   symbol at the bottom right hand corner of the video.


I would love to know about other uses for YouTube that you have found, or videos that you would like to share so please use the comments section below or the Anything But Bingo Facebook page.

Also, I have finally set up the option to subscribe to Anything But Bingo. You can either select the Subscribe tab at the top of the website, or click the link below. I can then let you know each time I put up a new post.



               Who am I?



I am a forty-something mother of two.

I love learning and creating, and do

what I can to improve the well-being

of people living with dementia.

I have worked in residential dementia

care for a few years and hope that I

have something useful to share.



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