Busy boards, or activity boards, can be used by people with Alzheimer’s disease as a way to help with fine motor skills, finger dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. The boards typically contain familiar hardware or objects such as latches, knobs, or locks that a person with Alzheimer’s disease can move back and forth, or to the “open” and “closed” positions.
People with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can often exhibit symptoms that include restlessness or fidgeting hands and fingers. Many occupational therapy programs and caregiver support groups suggest using busy boards as a way to help reduce agitation and help engage a person with Alzheimer’s disease.
There are different types of busy boards for sale at stores that sell products for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but if you have a few basic tools and a can-do attitude, there’s no reason you can’t design and make your own for a friend or loved one.
How to Make a Busy Board for Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease
Ready to get started? First, you need to select the items you want to include on your board. Some boards have themes — for example, items that produce different tactile sensations, such as cotton, velvet, leather, or silk. Other boards include a little bit of everything and can incorporate items purchased at the hardware store or found around the house.
Try out any item you want to include to make sure that there’s no way that skin can be pinched. Also, you’ll want to make sure that the item can be “fidgeted with” while attached to a board. If the object can’t move as intended or gets stuck easily, it could cause irritation rather than enjoyment.
You may already have an idea of what you want to include on your busy board. If you’re unsure where to start on your busy board, use the list below for inspiration. Scrolling through the activity boards for sale on Etsy or Pinterest can be a way to generate ideas as well.
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What to Include on Your Busy Board
Locks and Latches
A barrel bolt, also called a sliding bolt or a chain bolt, where the lock can slide in and out of position, can be included. Plastic clasps or metal buckles, such as you would find on a backpack or an old-fashioned metal lunchbox, can be attached to your board.
Zippers, Snaps, Laces, and Velcro Closures
A craft store or your own closet could be the source to find everyday clasps to include on the board. A perk of making your own board is that you can customize it for your loved one. If you think shoelaces might cause frustration, substitute a Velcro strip.
A flippy chain is made out of a clean bike chain and is used on its own as a fidget toy. You’ll need a key chain or carabiner to secure the flippy chain to the board. A nice feature of these toys is that they don’t make any noise when fidgeted with.
Plastic or Wooden Gears
These gears not only look cool on your board, they can be fun to make go around. Unless you have a woodworking shop, you’ll probably want to purchase these gears at a craft store or online. Add color by customizing them with markers or paint. Line up the gears carefully so that they can move together by just turning one before you begin drilling the holes for their placement.
Consider adding knobs of different shapes and sizes. Choosing a knob with a privacy lock that can be pushed in or turned adds an extra element.
A simple wall switch with a faceplate can be used on the board. For something a little more out of the ordinary, a metal toggle switch is an option.
Stress Ball or Squeeze Toy
If your loved one enjoyed using a stress ball before they developed Alzheimer’s disease, include one on their board. You may have to be a little more creative in how you decide to attach the toy. The simplest way is to use a squeeze toy or ball that’s attached to a key chain that you could secure to your board.
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Attaching Items to Your Busy Board
Once you have selected all the items for your board, lay them out on a piece of poster board, newspaper, or cardboard. Consider how each item will be used and allow enough room so that each object can be accessed and used without difficulty.
Then trace a rectangle or square around all of your objects and measure it. That’s the size that your board needs to be. If it seems your finished board will be too large, consider making two smaller lap-sized busy boards.
Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a good choice for your base — it’s not too hard to drill, but it’s sturdy enough to hold your items in place once you screw them in. You can leave the board plain wood or paint it with a safe toxin-free paint. Make sure all the edges of the board are smooth and won’t cause splinters.
Mark the places where holes will need to be. You can even write little notes in pencil to remind yourself where each item goes, or do a trial layout and take a picture with your phone before you get started.
Use a drill and screwdriver to attach your items. You may want to do a test run on a scrap piece of board before selecting the screws you will use. It’s important that the screws are flush with the board and that their sharp ends don’t stick out on the back side.
Once the glue is dry, your board is ready for use. Make sure all the objects are firmly attached and work as they should before you present it to your loved one.