How Art Therapy Helps People with Dementia and Alzheimer’s


Alzheimer’s and Dementia disintegrate the ability to use language as a form of self-expression during the onset. When the diseases progressively worsen, a severe decline in thought processes makes communication and memory inaccessible. Brain activity becomes compromised due to less blood flow to the vital organ. Art therapy has uncovered artistic abilities that are preserved, despite the decrease of short-term memory loss and increase of confusion these life altering diseases manifest. Artistry enhances the lives of the elderly by bringing happiness and fulfillment to frustrating circumstances.

Study reveals artistic skills help patients communicate

Art partially returns what seniors who are suffering, have lost from the crippling diseases. A study published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, reveals that patients use their artistic skills to communicate with family and doctors at St. Micheal’s Hospital in Toronto. The study focused on a patient named Mary Hecht. Due to severe vascular dementia, she was unable to recall common words or animals, but she was able to sketch intricate and precise drawings from her memories.

The artistic temperament encourages dignity, validation and a sense of wholeness. Although words that are lost cannot be used, the artists can reestablish a value in themselves and others. Relationships and empathy improve, while dead ends in language are surpassed by the individuals ability to express their stories creatively. Anxiety and feelings of isolation are decreased while mastery over their surroundings is cultured. Art, dance and music inspire people suffering from these frustrating circumstances to connect with others. Therapeutic art programs stimulate their mind and reduce symptoms of aggressive behavior because of the enlightening opportunities that they bring.

Art therapy programs used to help seniors with Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Art therapy programs are being established in communities and colleges as well as hospitals. These programs provide access to community arts and cultural events to enrich the quality of life and enable seniors to participate within their environment. Art contests are held nationwide by organizations such as the Assisted Living Federation of America, to encourage and recognize the skills of senior living. The classes and workshops are used to help seniors connect memories of their past and improve their concentration and stamina.

Art, dance and music draw from parts of the brain that language doesn’t

Although art therapy won’t cure Alzheimer’s and Dementia, it can help by allowing patients to be creative and enjoy that experience. Art and dance classes work best when used in combination to help the elderly reduce their symptoms according to Dr. Daniel C. Potts, founder of Cognitive Dynamics. Dr. Potts mission is to empower families who are in similar situations so that they can experience the happiness and fulfillment that they bring.

Bring Art to Life is a service offered by Alabama University that brings art therapy to people in the area. Several students work with a participant on their life story to create a leather bound memoir. The therapeutic program has been designed so that it can be given at other academic institutions and organizations with access to community partnership. One inspiring example of Bring Art to Life is of an 80 year old woman with Alzheimer’s who no longer cooked or spoke with her family. After Bring Art to Life, she spent Thanksgiving with her family and cooked the entire meal.

Professionals and caregivers can get trained in art therapy

Angel Duncan MA, MFT-ATR, is an art therapist and executive Art Director at Cognitive Dynamics who operates Cognitive Connections. The art therapy program is focused on training-the-trainer to develop interpersonal and artistic skills to reach out to seniors. To get started in art therapy it is a good idea to contact the Alzheimer’s association in your community to find out where art therapy programs are available. The Area Agencies on Aging may also be beneficial. Alzheimer’s and Dementia care-giver support groups, day-care programs, and colleges may also be able to recommend programs or have one of their own.

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