Art Therapy for Dementia

ARt Therapy Watercolors

 

Alzheimer’s Disease is just one form of dementia.  Other forms include vascular dementia, alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. But art therapy is blind to the causes of a patient’s dementia. In fact, it has proven to be an effective communication tool to help individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) as well as with early to middle stages of dementia.

What is it about art that is therapeutic? After all, art therapy is not just for those suffering from cognitive diseases, art therapy is also used to help the following populations:

  • Children with emotional or behavioral issues
  • Children with learning disabilities
  • Individuals with mental health challenges
  • Individuals dealing with stress

Perhaps it’s because art therapy is not about one’s ability or the artistic value of one’s work. As Psychology Today points out, “The artwork can be used as a springboard for reawakening memories and telling stories that may reveal messages and beliefs from the unconscious mind.”

 

Art can be calming, emotionally satisfying, and social.

 

An Example of Art Therapy

The Alzheimer’s Association has developed a program called Memories in the Making, which enables those suffering from dementia to create watercolor paintings.  The program has two objectives.

Firstly, through the act of painting, the patient has the opportunity to engage socially and share meaningful life moments and interests in a fun and supportive environment.

And secondly, a trained facilitator documents these memories and thoughts to share with families and caregivers so they can learn more about the patient. This allows them a glimpse into the inner world of the person suffering from dementia.

Art is good for the patient as well as informative for those people connected to the patient.

 

Visual Communication

Dementia causes a  breakdown of verbal communication. However, as this part of the brain deteriorates, often the visual side of the brain becomes more pronounced. While certain thoughts might be gated with speech, they may be communicated through art. This explains how art therapy can be effective for so many different populations.

 

Informal Art

A patient of dementia does not have to be in a formal art therapy session to obtain the benefits of art. In fact, a caregiver can provide the materials necessary for the care receiver to create an art project. The Alzheimer’s Association offers tips to caregivers when planning an activity:

 

  • Keep the project on an adult level. Avoid childlike projects.
  • Interact with the person by discussing what he/she is creating or reminiscence.
  • Help the person begin the activity, especially if it’s more complicated. 
  • Use safe materials. 
  • Allow plenty of time.

 

Whether in a patient’s home or in a residential facility, therapeutic art can enhance the lives of those suffering from dementia and provide them with an alternative channel of communication. 

 

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