Alzheimer's Foundation of America


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Education and Care

Art

Art therapy, whether done in a community setting or at home, provides an enriched environment that can excite the imagination of individuals with dementia.

When Alzheimer’s disease strips individuals of verbal skills, this recreational activity provides an alternative means by which they can express themselves in a non-threatening and comfortable way. And it can also help individuals recover the use of motor skills in the same manner as physical rehabilitation.

Moreover, art therapists informally report the effectiveness of art making. Some individuals crawl out of their shells. Others, unable to communicate through words, express delight, appear more relaxed or exhibit less behavioral problems. Together in a group setting, participants often develop a newfound sense of camaraderie.

For families, art offers a viable activity that can bring family members together via a new channel of expression especially when words no longer work. It might be just the interaction for younger children who are frightened by the illness.

How to be most effective?

Keep it simple. Painting and sculpting are activities most individuals with dementia can accomplish.

Evoke memories. Suggest drawing the family farm, a snowman or other images that are familiar or can evoke childhood memories.

Play it safe. Only use materials that would be harmless if swallowed. Check all labels and only buy paints and other materials that are non-toxic. Homemade clay and paint are preferable to store-bought versions because they can be made with ingredients that are edible.

Select stimulating materials. Individuals in mid-to-late stage dementia often respond best to brightly colored paints and organic materials such as homemade clay. Other objects like cardboard candy boxes, balls of yarn, old photograph albums, papier-mache and pieces of material also go over well.

Create a comfortable setting. Play music in the background—soothing, but not distracting. Provide lighting that is adequate, but not too bright.

Be positive. Aim for no-failure activities. In addition to being positive reinforcements, compliments, such as “terrific” and “great job,” can help keep individuals focused.

Talk about the artwork. If your loved one is still verbal, ask about the artwork or a favorite color. Open-ended questions will tap into memories, spark conversations and encourage socialization. Use your knowledge about the individual, such as past hobbies, former professions and family life.

Start a gallery. Hanging up artwork, whether on the refrigerator of your home or the hallway of a long-term care facility, offers more opportunities for socialization and reminiscence. Plus, it goes a long way toward making the artist feel good.

Contributed by Elizabeth Cockey, a Baltimore-based art therapist and consultant to healthcare facilities about the utilization of art therapy.

For more information, connect with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s licensed social workers. Click here or call 866.232.8484. Real People. Real Care.