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They may be all the rage for stressed out city workers and overworked parents, but colouring books for adults are also a useful calming tool for people with dementia.

It’s easy to assume that colouring – with pencils, felt-tips, crayons – is just an activity designed for children. But colouring books for adults are the latest ‘wellbeing trend’ designed to help you feel calmer and happier. Millions of adults are finding it satisfying and relaxing to spend time colouring.

How does colouring help?

If you think back to those days as a child when you were sat down with a colouring book and a pack of crayons or felt-tips, very often you would be engrossed for hours. For harassed parents it was the opportunity for some peace and quiet, and it was an enjoyable and satisfying activity for you.

In reality, these beneficial effects don’t go away once you’re an adult. It’s simply that many adults are too busy doing other things to make time to sit down and do an activity that seems so child-like and indulgent. But now people are returning to colouring as a means of relaxation and in a bid to find some inner calm and peace.

The trend appeared to start in 2012 in France, when a book called Art-thérapie: 100 Coloriages anti-stress in 2012 was published, focusing on the therapeutic value of colouring. The French publishers have sold 2.5 million copies of its Art-thérapie series in France, and another million copies in 18 additional countries. Now other artists have started releasing colouring books, including Johanna Basford, who created Secret Garden – a million-selling colouring book.

Why is colouring good for dementia?

Colouring can be very beneficial for people with dementia as it is an engrossing activity that anyone can do. You don’t have to be good at drawing – you just have to be able to colour in shapes. It can be a useful activity to help ease agitation or aggression in someone with dementia as it is very distracting and calming. Some experts have likened the effect of colouring to be the same as meditation. Like meditation, colouring lets you switch off your brain from other thoughts – which for someone with dementia can be very satisfying – and focus on the moment.

What’s more, it seems colouring isn’t just a great de-stressing tool. It can also help you remember things. A study in 2009 looked at the benefits of doodling (which is quite similar in its actions to colouring) to see if it could help information retention. People were encouraged to doodle and shade in printed shapes while a list of random names was read aloud. In a surprise quiz given later, those who were doodling while listening to the list remembered 29% more of the names that those who didn’t doodle.

Colouring is also a very inclusive activity, and is ideal for all ages, including grandchildren, but do be sensitive to the types of colouring books and sheets that you give your loved one with dementia. It’s inappropriate and demeaning to give them a colouring book that is quite clearly designed for young children.

However, you should also not go too far in the other direction either. If the person with dementia has lost some of their manual dexterity and struggles to hold pens and pencils, a very delicate and intricate picture could cause more stress if they struggle to colour within the lines.

Did you know?
Celebrated psychologist Carl Jung is thought to have been the first professional to recommend colouring as a form of therapy. He prescribed it to his patients in the 1900s, giving them intricate Indian drawings called mandalas as he believed it would help them express deeper parts of their psyche.

To see a range of colouring books for adults, click here.