I must adapt each project for a variety of challenges. Hands tremble. Eyes are weak. Directions confuse. Tracing is out of the question. With dementia patients, even the act of moving paint from a tray to brush to paper can challenge.
I discovered that my stash of old clear contact paper could act as a removable resist. So we started by putting "magic bears" on to each page.
I gave each student a 2-inch house paint brush and showed them how to wet down the page. Surprisingly, even though this made little visible change, the process went easily. Linking the action to house painting instead of art triggered strong memories. "I know I'm good at this."
Then each student painted their page with color, mixing purple and blue. Here their abilities widely separated. Some grasp the concept and run with it. For others, filling a blank area can become quite hard. From what I've learned, as Alzheimer's progresses, edges become dominant. So painting a line makes sense, but painting an area does not. But with this subject, I could assure students that white was a fine choice for the final image:
Last step: trade the brush for a Q-tip and the watercolors for white paint. (Next time I'll remember to put the paint in clear containers. In old yogurt cups it was invisible.) They daubed on dots - snow or stars. Like house-painting, this motion made sense to most everyone, even students who'd had a hard time applying color.
When we removed the bears ("Remember the magic bears?") everyone was amazed, even the assistants. Sometimes art feels like a magic trick. The best part is the pride students clearly feel in the moment, even the ones who will forget.
I repeated the class with the Independent Living group, with the additional detail of adding precut stars and snowflakes. Big hit.
Art class is a time to relax and concentrate, follow instruction and make things up, all at the same time. And afterwards, if things go well, others can see and be amazed: a circle of delight.