As one of many holistic therapies used to help those living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, experts agree that art therapy has life-enriching effects for people who suffer from memory loss. Either by viewing or creating art, people with Alzheimer’s can experience self-expression and social engagement in a way that benefits their overall health.
Elaine Austin, Executive Director at Provident Village at Creekside, says, “Creativity is one area of strength that is spared by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Whereas most traditional areas of expression and communication eventually fade, creativity through art remains to give those with Alzheimer’s a voice.”
The Value of Art Therapy
Alzheimer’s experts from the Mayo Clinic have noted the remarkable benefits of art therapy for those living with the disease. In her article “Alzheimer’s Stops Where Creativity Begins,” dementia education specialist Angela Lunde discusses how art fosters emotional health as well as increases cognitive functioning. “[Art] has the ability to alter the mind, affect our behavior, emotions and our relationships with others … For people living with Alzheimer’s disease, this truly is important,” she writes.
Among the benefits of art therapy, the most significant include:
- Reduced stress, fear and anxiety – Art serves as a valuable outlet for people with Alzheimer’s. Working on a creative art project allows them to express the thoughts and emotions they otherwise have trapped inside.
- Decreased agitation and outbursts – Art therapy helps to improve a loved one’s mood. While making art, their attention and energy are focused on something positive, rather than the frustrating symptoms of their disease.
- Reduced isolation – Working on an art project allows for social engagement with the caregiver providing the therapy. It gives them an opportunity to interact with others through creating and sharing the artwork they make.
- Increased communication – Art therapy has an inherent topic for conversation! Caregivers and loved ones can talk about the art itself or past experiences. Even if it’s difficult for a loved one to carry on a conversation, painting or drawing can act as a form of communication on its own.
- Enhanced memory and reminiscence – Art has the power to tap into memories that still exist. Often, loved ones will choose a subject for their art that is important to them, such as a beloved pet, favorite place or cherished pastime.
- Increased self-image and sense of accomplishment – Art therapy gives loved ones the chance to create and accomplish something on their own, which, when Alzheimer’s has taken away so much, can work wonders for a loved one’s attitude. They can turn their stories into a visual work of art and be proud of their accomplishments.
- Improved attention span – Art therapy has been shown to increase a loved one’s ability to focus. The engaging nature of art helps hold their attention on the project they’re creating.
- Awakened interest and curiosity – When prompted to make art, a loved one is encouraged to think of a subject and act on creative impulses. A caregiver might also suggest a type of art that’s unfamiliar to the loved one, which can get them excited to try something new.
- Rekindled relationships – Art therapy activities stimulate communication and encouragement between the caregiver and the loved one, which help to create connections and benefit each of them.
Advice for Providing Art Therapy at Home
If you would like to try some art therapy with your loved one, the Alzheimer’s Association offers helpful tips for family caregivers:
- Keep the project on an adult level. Avoid anything that might be childlike or demeaning.
- Build conversation into the activity. Use this time to provide encouragement, discuss what the person is making or reminisce.
- Help the person begin the activity. Give instructions and assistance if necessary. With an activity like painting, you may have to help your loved one start the brush stroke movements.
- Use safe materials. Avoid anything toxic or sharp.
- Allow plenty of time. Remember that they don’t need to finish their project in one sitting.
Some activities may not be as beneficial or interesting to your loved one as others. Try different kinds of projects, such as painting, drawing, sculpting with clay, making a collage with photographs, arranging flowers, baking and decorating cookies or going to an art museum. The important thing is that your loved one enjoys the activity.
Creative Activities for Vibrant Living
At Provident Village at Creekside, residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory impairments experience vibrant days through engaging activities and programs. “Art therapy is just one of the fun, holistic therapies we use in everyday care,” says Austin. “Our goal is to help our residents live vibrantly, and for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, that means emphasizing their current strengths and abilities, not trying to recover what’s been lost.
“The programs offered in our Smynings Square Memory Care Neighborhood are designed to exercise the mind and body while prolonging daily functioning as long as possible. Our specially trained caregivers have just the right balance of support and encouragement to help our residents through programs that give them a sense of purpose and dignity.”
Live Vibrantly! at Provident Village at Creekside
At Provident Village at Creekside, we believe vibrant days ensure bright tomorrows, so we’ve created a community where seniors, quite simply, Live Vibrantly! Whether it’s in our Assisted Living Community or Memory Care Neighborhood, each day we celebrate the individuality and strengths of each resident.
At Provident Village, to Live Vibrantly! means that days are filled with joy, vitality, growth and security. It means residents are socially active and personally empowered, with access to the personalized care and support they need to live fully. It means residing in a community where intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual and physical care are seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Our compassionate Care Partners dedicate each day to enriching the lives of our residents. They customize the level of attention and activities to each resident’s specific needs and abilities. Our living environments are warm and inviting, with comfortable furnishings, beautiful fixtures and natural elements that bring the outdoors inside.