The Hidden Benefits of Coloring

Coloring for Therapy & How Coloring Heals

One of the biggest benefits of one-to-one home health care is the opportunity for caregivers to tailor their services to the unique needs of each client.  For many clients receiving assistance through SelectCare Home Care Services of NY, simply having another person in the home to cook the meals they enjoy, tidy their living space and engage in conversation can go a long way towards improving the client’s quality of life.

While these activities help keep a client active and engaged, it’s also totally natural for clients to want a little quiet time to themselves, often opting to flip on a television, relax on the couch and catch up on their favorite programs.

This blog post covers an alternative activity to television that might seem silly at first, but is gaining popularity among adults of all ages, as well as the attention of medical professionals: coloring!

The History of Coloring in Therapy

Retired hospital administrator (and great-aunt to at least one home care blogger) Priscilla Reed is an avid coloring book user and shares her masterpieces with relatives by email.

Retired hospital administrator (and Grand Aunt to at least one home care blogger) Priscilla Reed is an avid coloring book user and shares her masterpieces with relatives by email.

The therapeutic benefits of coloring have been studied for decades.  As early as the 1940’s, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung encouraged his patients to draw colorful, circular Mandalas – a type of Indian art focused on geometric patterns – as a way to express their feelings without words.

Since infants are naturally attracted to circular shapes, Jung believed that drawing these designs could reconnect adult patients to a simpler time in their lives, helping them unpack their grown-up anxiety, while the repetition of filling in these designs provides a calming effect similar to meditation.

Since then, these beliefs have been formalized into what we understand as modern art therapy, which allows patients to express themselves through art in lieu of words. Formal art therapy requires a trained therapist to guide the patient and interpret their work, however there are many benefits associated with unstructured coloring that anyone can enjoy from the comfort of their couch.

How Does Coloring Heal?

Coloring might seem like child’s play, but there is an increasingly large body of scientific research that indicates the simple, methodical process of coloring has a similar impact on our brains as meditation.

  • Awakening memories: More and more adult-focused coloring books are hitting the market every day. Many of these new books focus on topics specifically targeted to an older audience, including old movie posters, historical events and figures and even cowboy and Indian-themed books can be found online. These books can help awaken childhood memories and spark conversations between an older adult and their caregiver.  Dover Publications has a large assortment of older adult-themed coloring books, and a cursory search on Amazon offers an even wider selection.
  • Brain exercise: Coloring requires use of both the creative and logical sides of the brain. Participants exercise the right side of their brain by selecting colors and interpreting the picture they wish to complete, while the left side of the brain is activated to perform the fine motor functions needed to color within the lines.
  • Stress and anxiety relief: Everyone worries about “big picture” problems, but the act of coloring focuses attention away from these issues and towards smaller, easier-to-solve questions like color selection. Psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala goes on to suggest that the relaxation caused by coloring can lower activity in the amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for emotions and stress.
  • Satisfaction: For many older adults, passive activities like watching television offer fleeting, if any, lasting rewards. On the other hand, a light arts and crafts activity like coloring provides the participant with a colorful picture they can post on the wall or fridge and show off to visitors and reassure themselves that they are still active participants in the world around them.

Adapting For Disabilities

For adults with limited hand mobility or sight, coloring is still a viable activity.  There are a huge number of assistive devices on the market to help older adults grip thin pencils, as well as thick pencils that can make grasping less of a chore.  Finally, there are several free coloring apps available for smart phones and tablets that, while not as engaging as their paper-and-pencil competitors, offer zoom features that make it easier for people with limited vision.

At SelectCare, our staff offers more than 30 years of experience helping older New Yorkers enjoy happy, engaging lives in the comfort of their own homes.  Our team of home health care experts is always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to contribute to our clients’ lives and we hope that you have found this post interesting.

To learn more about how we can help you or a loved one, call us today.