Art Therapy Can Help With Alzheimers

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The Value of Art Therapy

By Senior Living Link Staff on April 24, 2017

There is little debate that art provides positive benefits for all individuals. In fact, several studies credit art with reducing depression and anxiety, both common symptoms of chronic diseases. Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson claims that older adults who participate in therapeutic art exhibit less longing and despair. Additionally, neurological research cites that viewing or making art can improve cognitive functions: the brain uses more efficient brain networks or alternative brain strategies to make connections that may have not been apparent or were thought to be lost.

Incorporating art into programs for patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is no exception. These are numerous additional benefits of art therapy for this population:

  • Assists in socialization and improves communication – it is a means to connect with others in a different, non-verbal way and also a tool to help let go some negative emotions through expressing feelings and thoughts
  • Develops closer relationships – those with Alzheimer’s disease are often brought closer together with caregivers through the shared experience
  • Encourages concentration, playfulness, and a sense of humor – it emphasizes abilities that are still present and that can be developed in a fun way
  • Increases appropriate behavior – the calming effect of art is similar to listening to music or playing with pets; it can promote relaxation, improve mood, and decrease disruptive behavior

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is using the creative process of art to improve and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages according to The National Institutes of Health. Drawing, coloring, painting, sculpting, and other art processes are typically used.

Art therapy allows individuals to put on paper or other medium their feelings and thoughts when they often can not express themselves through words. The goal is not the final product, but the creative process. If it brings enjoyment or offers a way to communicate what’s inside of the participant, if self-esteem is enhanced, then that is what is important. Drawing to perfection, coloring inside lines, and applying advanced painting or sculpting techniques are not the goals.

How can caregivers incorporate art therapy for those with Alzheimer’s disease?

You don’t have to be a professional art therapist to offer art therapy. You an provide a creative engaging activity and even work alongside the patient whether you are at home or at a facility.

Try to make art projects a part of your regular routine. Utilize only safe, non-toxic materials. Consider larger-sized crayons and larger pictures to color without a lot of detail, watercolors that consist of only primary colors and larger brushes, and a softer clay for sculpting.

You might also consider having the patient join an art class with others who have Alzheimer’s. This will offer a break for the caretaker while helping the individual be involved socially. Many adult day centers include art experiences.

And you might want to brainstorm additional ideas. What were/are some of the individuals’ interests? If they like gardening, try to bring flowers into the equation. If they like a certain sport, incorporate that. Scrap booking or making a shadowbox are other popular ideas for art therapy. Adding various, colorful backgrounds and favorite photographs into an album or selecting and positioning items in a shadow box for display can awaken old memories and stimulate a sense of shared happiness and togetherness.

In summary, the most important aspect of art therapy is to set aside time for individuals to engage and concentrate on the given task so it remains a positive experience that they will want to repeat. The benefits for their quality of life and well-being will not go unnoticed.