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.




This arts and craft project is easy, uses everyday items and can be adapted to match the abilities of someone living with dementia.

I'm excited about this post because arts and crafts is one of my favourite activities to do both personally and at work. This particular project worked incredibly well when we did it in a care home and the results became a much admired part of our art show. I've called it a stained glass window but it isn't transparent, it just gives the colourful effect of a window. Theoretically I think it should be called a foil relief, but that doesn't sound as pretty as they look!

I've listed everything you need and described and photographed each step, so hopefully it should be easy to follow. I've also included ways to adapt the activity at each step. One of the most exciting things about creative activities is that I start with an idea about how a finished project should look and afterwards we end up with a selection of completely different results; each one is unique, each one is personal, each one is perfect. It doesn't matter if your stained glass window looks like mine, if it is all one colour, if the lines aren't straight or if there are holes in the foil. What matters is if you can both enjoy making it, so try to see youself as a guide rather than only a demonstrator and let the activity take its own course. It can take a bit of practice to find the balance between showing someone how to do something and doing the whole activity yourself on their behalf.

The stained glass window you make can be put on display, hung in the window or even given away as a gift. I always make a point of making sure that any art or craft creation is used in some way. I think it is important that activity should be purposeful even if that purpose is to have something pretty to look at.

What you need:

  • cardboard - you can use a cereal box or packing box, or indeed any cardboard you can find
  • string or wool
  • glue - either a glue stick / pritstick or a liquid glue
  • scissors
  • sellotape
  • tin foil - I've used extra-thick foil but a thinner foil will be fine
  • coloured marker pens - I prefer Sharpies but any marker pens will do the job. As I found out today, felt tip pens don't work!


What to do:

  1. Cut out a square or oblong piece of cardboard. Don't make it too big as it will take longer to colour in. Mine is 13cm x 15cm. Adapt: Person can hold cardboard as you cut it.
  2. Cut lengths of string or wool that are a little longer than the card in both directions. Adapt: Person can hold string as you cut, or visa versa.
  3. Rip off or cut a piece of foil that is at least 5cm bigger than your card on each side. Adapt: Put your hand over theirs to help tear the foil / person can hold foil box as you rip a piece off.
  4. Spread glue all over the carboard. If you are using a glue stick / pritstick be generous with it. Adapt: "take it in turns" so that you can fill in any gaps left behind / put your hand over theirs to guide the glueing.
  5. Lay the pieces of string over the card as shown in the photo. You are aiming to create shapes that you will later colour in. Adapt: Ask where they would like the string to go / take an end of the string each so that you can guide its position.
  6. Place your foil over the top of the cardboard and string. Using the palm of your hand and pads of your fingers start to press down, paying particular attention to either side of the string. As you do this you will see the pattern of the string start to appear. It is easy to pierce the foil if you use fingernails to push the foil down so try to avoid this. Adapt: Ask the person to place their hand on top of yours as you push the foil down / ask them to concentrate on one area at a time rather than be overwhelmed or confused by the entire piece.
  7. You should now be able to see each piece of string and the shapes that they have created. Turn over the cardboard.
  8. Fold over the edges of the foil and string. You can describe this as like wrapping a present which may help the person understand what you are asking them to do. Then sellotape the edges down to secure them. Turn your cardboard back over so that you can see the front.
  9. You can now start colouring in the shapes. You can see some normal felt-tip pens in this photo. They didn't work so you need to use marker pens like the Sharpie I have in my hand or a permanent marker pen like the fat blue one in the photo. You can often find these at pound shops. It doesn't matter if the colour overlaps, or there isn't much variety of colour. Try not to push down with the pen as you'll pierce the foil, but again, it doesn't matter if you do. Adapt: You can do some of the colouring too if the quantity of space to fill is overwhelming but try to do it at the same time rather than taking over.

Enjoy the final piece of art and share the success with your visitors and each other.


I hope that you will have a go at this project. I would love to see photos of your final pieces so please do share them on the Facebook page.


I love matching activities for people living with dementia; you can use things you have around the house or be more creative if you have the time (and means), and you can tailor them to an individuals interests. As with many of my activity ideas, matching tasks are good for someone who's dementia is at a stage when they are finding it difficult to fill their time and would rather sit and do nothing rather than try to complete tasks they might have once found satisfying and fullfilling. Tasks such as these can be a relatively easy way to provide distraction and be a meaningful way to keep the brain active and mind occupied.

Why do matching activities work?

  • I'm no academic but, from what I have seen in practice, matching games can be a good way to engage someone who is looking for some brain stutimulation but who's abilities have declined such that they can't manage more complex challenges.
  • Matching activities are by design done by an individual rather than group and so they remove any anxieties about "getting it right" in front of others, or indeed can be done in your home with minimal support.
  • As I suggested above matching activites can be entirely personalised. Making sure an activity holds some interest for the person rather than being a meaningless task can help to improve their levels of engagement, maybe also promoting conversation alongside the activity.


You can use things around the house

Matching socks, finding the right lid for each bottle, sorting cutlery into a cutlery tray. All these things can be found in your own home. If you are finding it difficult to persuade the person living with dementia to begin the task I might suggest it is a job that needs to be done and that it "would be a great help if you would sort these things out for me".



You can be creative

A great way to personalise a matching task is to use a topic of interest for the indivudal. For example one of the ladies I have worked with loved butterflies. I had discovered this whilst looking though a wildlife magazine with her one day. Using that knowledge I was able to make her a butterfly matching game as you see here.


I have also made a more complex spot matching game; this involved not just matching one colour but three. I had been worried that it was too complicated but with some guidance and support it was achievable by some of my clients, and those that did finish it had a great sense of achievement afterwards!

I made the butterfly and spot games on the computer, putting photos or shapes into a Word document, printing them and laminating. But don't let that put you off making one yourself, you could also make games using pictures cut out from magazines, or even drawing shapes onto paper.

This key matching game is made from a selection of keys kindly donated from a key cutting shop and drawing round them on a sheet of paper.

I have included PDF printables of the spot game below, so feel free to make one yourself and give it a go. Let me know how it works.

More ideas

Match object to photos; take photos of small objects around the house (e.g. a button, cotton reel, wooden spoon, golf ball etc) and then print them out. Keep the objects and photos together and ask the person to put the correct item with it's photograph.

Match halves of playing cards; cut a pack of playing cards in half and ask the person to put the halfs side by side again. Depending on their abilities it may be an idea to only present a small collection of cards - the entire 52 card pack might be too overwhelming!

Match fabric scraps; if sewing is of interest and you can lay your hands on some scraps of fabric you can cut the scraps into two pieces and ask the person to find the matching piece.

Colour matching; paint colour samples are freely available at DIY stores. If you can get hold of some pegs too you can easily make a colour matching game.


I am interested to hear your feedback on my ideas and also if they have worked for you, so please do comment below.


Game Set Match.


Printable spot game PDF



Advanced dementia - what can you do? How about polishing shoes?

When someone is living with advanced dementia it can feel like there is nothing meaningful they can do to pass the time. Working with people at this stage is one of the challenges of my job but also the most rewarding.

Michael (not his real name) was a 'wanderer'; an unhelpful description often used for someone living with dementia who can't sit still. Michael worked in the building trade all his life and so was used to being busy. His dementia had advanced to the stage that he had no verbal communication, an apparently limited understanding of the world around him and little interest in activities. Michael was, however, fully mobile and so spent much of his waking hours walking around the home. When I was introduced to the idea of using Montessori methods with dementia Michael sprang to mind and of all the things I tried shoe polishing was the stand out success.

Polishing shoes

Although it may be a generalisation I believe it was typical 50-60 years ago for the man of the house to polish the shoes. Assuming the same was true in Michael's house he will have polished a fair few shoes and boots during his life time.

I presented a pair of shoes, some polish and 2 brushes on the table in front of Micheal. He barely acknowledged them.

I put the brush in his hand but he put it back on the table.

The next step was to put the brush in Michael's hand and put my hand over the top. We started to brush the shoe together. I gently let go and straight away Michael slipped his hand in the shoe just the way he will have done all those years ago, and polished the shoe.  This activity lasted a mere 3 minutes but throughout those 3 minutes Michael was smiling. 


We know from research that the feelings experienced by someone living with dementia from a recent experience far outlive the memory of that experience so I felt sure that the satisfaction or pleasure that Michael felt for that brief time will have stayed with him for a longer than he will have remembered the activity itself. Now that we knew Michael was able and happy to do this task we were able to repeat it many times.

My tips for trying new tasks with someone living with advanced dementia:

  • Acknowledge the individuals life history and past hobbies and interests, but don't be ruled by them. They may have hated gardening once but will now find pleasure in filling a pot with compost.
  • Remember that muscle memory - the brain's ability to remember often practiced movements is a powerful (if not well understood) phenomenon so any physical tasks that someone has performed time and time again may still be useable even when their dementia advances.
  • Choose your moment when introducing a new task. You are looking for a calm, wakeful time when the person is responsive.
  • Don't be disheartened if the person doesn't show interest the first time. Unless you get a strong negative reponse you can try again another time.
  • Gradually add support as required. i.e. start by presenting the task. Then, if necessary show how it is done, then hold over the person's hand as you do it with them. The final level would be to demonstrate only. This in itself can be a welcome distraction for the person you are working with.

'Anyone can make it' microwave lemon curd recipe

You can make this, really you can. You need only 4 ingredients, a few common kitchen utensils. Oh, and you need a microwave. (You can make lemon curd on a hob but not with this recipe). If you are caring for someone living with dementia who used to love to cook or enjoys food then there is no reason to give up cooking with them.

All of my recipes have been designed to be easy to follow and with plenty of opportunity for carer and loved one to work together and share the experience. The level of participation will be very personal and go from minimal supervision, through stiring and grating, to reading the recipe and watching. As always I need to add a note of caution:

You know the person you are caring for the best; their memory, understanding and judgement. I cannot advise how safe each of these steps will be for everyone. I have highlighted possible danger points to guide you but common sense on the part of the caregiver is essential.



I have increased the sugar content as it is common for dementia to mess with taste buds and bitter tastes become more bitter, so lemon can taste more lemony and so on. Adding a little more sugar helps to counteract this sensitivity but do alter the levels to suit you.

There is a PDF file of the recipe below. You can then print the recipe and it can be easily read and followed .


What you will need:

2 lemons

2 eggs

125g caster sugar

60g butter (butter will give you the best flavour but spreadable butter or margerine will do too)


2 small bowls  - including one that is microwave safe

hand whisk

sharp knife

weighing scales

citrus juicer (you can also just squeeze the cut lemons)




What to do:

  1. Break the eggs into a bowl and then gently whisk them so that you have a runny orange liquid.
  2. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze as much juice out as you can using your hands or a juicer.  Sharp knife - beware!
  3. Add the lemon juice to the eggs and mix together.
  4. Using the sieve strain the lemon and egg mixture into the microwave safe bowl to remove the pips and thick bits of egg yolk.
  5. Weigh the butter and sugar and add them both to the sieved lemon mixture.
  6. Cover the bowl and microwave it 1 minute at a time. After each minute stir the lemon curd well. After a few minutes the mixture will start to thicken. Liquid will get hot - beware!
  7. Once thickened enough to drop off the spoon rather than run off it leave the lemond curd to cool and then you can eat it - delicious on a piece of bread.

The most perfect end to this cooking adventure is to invite someone for tea and see the joy in your loved one's face as you tell everyone that he or she made the lemon curd!

 Lemon Curd recipe PDF



Dementia - is there a place for children's toys?

Is it appropriate to give an adult, living with dementia, a child's toy to play with?



 My opinion is a resounding "yes". Should you also do this with care, sensitivity, forethought and in a person centred way? Of course. This is a sensitive subject for many people and one which I think I wil be returning to more than once

I first came across the concept of 'stage not age appropriate' from Teepa Snow, an American Dementia Care expert who has a refreshing approach to working and living with people who have dementia. There are also a heap of videos you can find on Youtube where she talks about her approach. 

The stages of dementia are loosly definable but are different in everyone and can involve all parts of the body and personallity. I really believe that pitching daily activity at the individual's own personal level,  what they can do, what they are finding pleasurable is the route to the most fun and fullfilling experiences. Think about what stage that person is at, and try not to worry so much about their age.

How does this work in practice?


Let's take jigsaw puzzles as an example. An individual with dementia may have once loved to do jigsaws; 1000 piece, back to front and upside down jigsaws. As their concentration skills, patience, memory and maybe even fine motor skills diminish these complex and demanding jigsaws may become unachieveable. So do you therefore take 'jigsaws' off the to-do list? Instead why not try easier puzzles. There are jigsaws available specifically designed for people with dementia, like this one (they will even personalise a jigsaw with your own photo!). I have used these particular jigsaws at work and the advantage of them is that the jigsaw is inset within a border of the photo so that you have clues for where to start straight away making it easier and less intimidating.

So far I don't think this is too controversial. Buying products aimed at the 'dementia market' makes them acceptable to most people.

If this size of jigsaw becomes too hard you can move on again. I have successfully used toddlers peg puzzles, like the one you see below with great results. I would usually begin by asking the person if they like the puzzle, the colours etc. Invariably I would get a reply about how they used to give the children one like it, or something similar. I might ask if they'd like to have a go, or "I wonder if we could do it?" This is usally enough to get us going. Sometimes you do get a negative reaction. One gentleman said rather gruffly "that's a children's toy". His tone of voice left me in no doubt that he didn't approve. Don't forget though .... it doesn't mean never. You can always try again another day.

Other ideas

Lego or the toddler version Duplo, Stickle bricks, Sewing cards, wooden sorting boxes, train set, Scalextric,



“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

elderly man playing with stickle bricks


If you are asking why I think this might be a sensitive subject then you are already with me on the stage / age appropriate debate. Many people however do find the idea of giving their Grandpa or wife a children's toy. It is insulting, inappropriate. Have you got anything to lose by giving it a go? If it feels uncomfortable try it when you are on your own together, guage their reaction. Try different things.


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               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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