Recreative Resources


By Michelle Olson, MS, ACC/MC, ATR-BC
Creative Path Consulting

Benefits Residents Can Get from Creating Art

  • Help increase fine motor skill
  • Helps build a sense of community and socialization
  • Help to alleviate depressive and anxious feelings
  • May help to alleviate some behavioral issues
  • Assists in pain management
  • Stimulates memory and reminiscing
  • Brings fun, education, and enjoyment
    through a creative outlet
  • Increases a sense of purpose and self esteem
  • Increase quality of life!

Benefits of Having an Enriched Art Program at Your Facility

  • Highlight and bring attention to your activities program
  • Art openings and exhibits are fun for everyone and look awesome!
  • Be a great marketing tool for you and your facility
  • Keep administration, family members, and visitors satisfied
  • Be impressive to DOH surveyors, and shows personalized  programming choices
  • Add a deeper and more meaningful level to your creative programming
  • Provide fun self expression, and a creative outlet
  • Adds sense of pride and accomplishment (for you and your residents!)
  • Quality of life for your residents!

Some Helpful Hints to Facilitating an Art Group with Seniors

  • Make sure there is adequate light available in your work area
  • Ensure there is enough room at tables (space for wheel chairs, providing ample space  for each participant as well as the ability for group members to interact)
  • Have all your supplies readily available to stay organized and keep your residents focused (also, a place to put items after use i.e. dirty paint brushes, glued projects etc)
  • Be sure to have adaptive equipment available if necessary (i.e. for vision and fine motor challenges)
  • Can offer a sample of art task available when able especially for lower functioning groups.  I don’t always do this for higher functioning groups since I want them to use their own imagination and creativity.
  • Bring in related artwork or information when appropriate to ignite excitement about task.
  • Have a goal(s) of what you would like accomplished by group as well  as individuals
  • Have clear directives of task and break down steps one at a time for groups with memory impairment to lessen frustration.
  • It is important NOT to leave scissors, paint, glue, etc unattended.  In fact, I do not give out supplies until it is time to use them when running a group with memory impaired individuals.
  • Art can be intimidating for some participants, ensure that their art is unique and all their own.  There is no “right” way to create art!
  • It is very important to encourage autonomy and independent decision making (no matter how simplex the decision may be).  Also, try to resist the urge to take over the resident’s work.  You can offer assistance if they have visual deficits, but try hand over hand and explore the boundaries of the paper to encourage independence.
  • Promote conversation and reminiscing between group members.  Ask open ended questions of group about the art/task/experience.
  • Have fun!  Encourage people to title their work and sign the front or back if they desire.
  • Always ask permission to share/show each person’s work.

olsonSensory Exploration with Art Materials

Working creatively with people with moderate to advanced Alzheimer’s can be challenging.  By having an understanding of these challenges, provides us some wonderful opportunities for connection and exploration. 

I will start by saying art materials are not created equal. That is to say that each one has a specific order in which it is utilized in the art process.  For instance, did you know there at least 10 steps in using watercolors?! For us, it’s simple.  Dip brush in water and then into paint, then onto the paper. However, this is a difficult task for someone who cannot make even the slightest movements and has no carry over memory from second to second.  For this reason, we should think carefully about what materials we are offering. We want to avoid frustration and have clear goals for what we wish for our seniors to gain from this experience.

Here, I am speaking briefly on using art materials as a sensory intervention. Not necessarily making art, but rather using creative materials to add life enrichment and tactile interest to our programming.  I have recently written an article about when people may no longer be appropriate for art making (see below)…Remember it’s not one size fits all. 

Here are some suggestions for getting started:

  • Work one to one if you can.  Sitting across from or next to your resident while facing them will offer a connection and provide that necessary relationship for conversation (even if one-sided) and perhaps hand-over-hand assistance with the sensory materials. Keeping close helps ensure items do not go into the mouth.
  • Find a quiet space away from all of the distractions. If you choose to use music, you can select quiet soothing music in the background or perhaps play various types of music to encourage mirroring motions between your resident’s movements and the music!
  • Do not focus on the outcome…Just appreciate the moment and promote autonomy as much as you can.  Always allow the resident to make even the simplest choices if they are able.
  • Remember…These are Adults! It is often easy to fall into the trap of using children’s materials but be very mindful that you keep it age appropriate. (more on this later)

Here are some ideas for simple, inexpensive creative materials that are sensory in nature:

People often ask me about finger paints and edible materials like pudding paint.  I don’t use them. I know people may not like to hear this. I personally feel it is too childlike and of course very regressive.  Also, many seniors especially when they are living with moderate dementia, can have an aversion to “dirty hands”.  If a resident asks for it, well of course that’s different. And as always, document all your interventions.

Here is a project you can do instead:  Marbeling Paint in a Bag.  Get a gallon or larger size ziplock bag. Let your resident pick out some colors (if they can).  You squeeze in several colors and then zip closed. I then use painter’s tape to hold it down to the table.  Let them press and make designs in the bag. It is fun to watch the colors start to mix and it has such a fun squishy feel!  (see picture)

Play-Doh. Again, I don’t use it. I would never want to plop down a bunch of play-doh cans on the table.  The label is clearly for children and it’s expensive!  There are several great recipes you can find online for salt dough or home made clay.  Try this…Adding some essential oils to the clay for an aroma-therapy experience!  Add items to the clay for further exploration.  Something else I’m sure you’ve tried is Kinetic sand. I personally can’t keep from playing with it…It has movement and a silky texture that is so irresistible.  Model magic is also very lightweight and pliable for arthritic hands. Again, there are online recipes for making your own if you choose not to purchase it.

Try using colored sand in a tray and have them swirl it into patterns and perhaps explore various items to move the sand like a spoon, a mini rake, a paintbrush.

I am a HUGE fan of natural materials. I use them in all of my art groups…all levels of functioning can appreciate nature’s beauty…Just adapt the task to fit your people!  Sticks, bark, acorns, seed pods, beans, tapioca/rice, dried lavender, pine cones and needles, leaves, shells etc!  You can put these in the sand or clay or try working together to create a natural collage!  Have them place on a base (wood, heavy paper, cardboard etc) and then you can glue down.  If they are able to help squeeze…let them help glue too!

I always say, anything textured even simple found objects can be artistic! Use your imagination and let your residents explore their creativity! It can happen even without words.

Wishing you all peace, love & lots of inspiring moments in your important work.   ~Michelle

Art Therapy Consultants

Creative aging and self expression is the very heart of Creative Path Consulting. I bring art and creativity to seniors in a variety of settings: From assisted living facilities, to recreational centers, to long term care, and in-home visits. Each place and its needs, are as unique as it’s people. I believe you don't have to be an artist to be creative and you are NEVER too old to be creative!
For more information Contact Michelle Olson at

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