The colouring books brightening dementia patients' lives

A Colourful Life offers personalised colouring books to dementia patients as created from their personal photographs.

Colouring books have found popularity with adults as well as children in recent years, but what about the elderly? There probably are countless pensioners using their free time to fill in black and white drawings like the rest of us, but what if the art of colouring could provide those living with dementia some respite from anxiety and depression? 

A Colourful Life fills this need, not by using impersonal illustrations, but drawings based on personal photos submitted by families of the affected.

Devised by London creatives Beth Grace and Hannah Cunningham, the small business has gone on to be picked for the D&AD Future Impact Programme, a business incubator where participants are given access to a shared prize fund of $150,000. An idea going from the linework stage to full-blown Technicolour you could say, and one which grabbed our attention at Digital Arts.

"Currently the books are being created by hand, by us; we collate imagery from the family and use ProCreate to form the line art," Hannah explained after we reached out to for more info, curious on the average turnaround for the books.

"We then speak with the family and write short, emotive captions to engage the person using it. These prompt the person living with dementia to the location and date of the memory."

"Each book can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to create, it depends how much work we have on in our day jobs!"

The process was the main reason that Hannah and Beth turned the project into an online service, knowing that to have the scale they wanted, they needed more people drawing in order to a more streamlined operation running.

"One of the biggest steps in the accelerator program will be designing this online service and staffing it," Hannah adds.

The Colourful Life books themselves went through several rounds of design, each time more influenced by research into colours, fonts and styles that make the final products  as easy and enjoyable as possible for those with dementia to use. 

"We decided on the final design by measuring it against the project’s core values: is it easy to use? Does it look desirable? And most importantly, is it celebratory? When we’d hit yes, yes, yes we knew it was the right fit for the project."

"We would always welcome any suggestions that could further the experience of the user (though), providing it is in keeping with the values of the project of course," Hannah continues.

"Up next in the design process will be perfecting the user interface for the online service, making sure it feels just as vibrant and simple as the books."

Hannah feels that this and art therapy in general is crucial in daily dementia care, with more and more studies showing how it can improve both mood and health. Curious, I ask her whether colouring has greater impact than the act of drawing.

"Drawing is a small part of that but in later stages of dementia a blank page could bring on additional anxiety, not ease it. Colouring on the other hand is accessible for most people.

"It also relieves anxiety and requires minimal motor skills, so it can still be done in later stages of dementia."

One more question I have is on what impact the D&AD Future Impact scheme has had so far, and what it means for the future of A Colourful Life.

"It feels incredible to be recognised by D&AD but, more importantly, it feels overwhelming to have the support of the accelerator program.

"What started as our passion project that helped a few people has the potential now to help so many more. To us that is the ultimate success."

Read next: Kristina Bold is a font based on a stroke survivor's handwriting

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