Art therapy has been a tool for many practitioners ranging from the medical field, rehabilitation facilities, mental health practices, and even educational settings. Specifically, art therapy can be beneficial to those living with dementia as the practice is mentally stimulating and opens an avenue for non-verbal communication. A common effect of dementia is the inability to communicate effectively. While an individual may still have an internal narrative, they can not share those thoughts with the people around them. Communicating through art is one way individuals may overcome this barrier.
WHAT IS ART THERAPY?
Before unpacking how art therapy can aid those with dementia, it is important to understand what it is. The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.”
Art therapy has shown to be an effective treatment for a wide range of developmental, medical, educational, social, and psychological challenges. This is why art therapy is an integral part of Life Enrichment programming offered at communities managed by The Goodman Group and is used to help enhance the residents’ overall well-being.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ART THERAPY FOR SENIORS WITH DEMENTIA?
Verbal expression may become difficult for individuals living with dementia. Humans are very social creatures, so any condition that causes us to lose the ability to express emotions can be extremely isolating for individuals and for their loved ones who miss interacting with them.
However, communicating through artistic expression can recapture effective communication with family, friends, and caregivers. Using painting or drawing bypasses language and allows an individual to communicate and express feelings in a different way.
Participating in art therapy can also be a very soothing activity, calming the anxieties and even fears that sometimes accompany dementia. Creating a piece of art can also create a sense of personal accomplishment and renewed life purpose. Engaging in art therapy can even lead to a new hobby.
Some benefits of art therapy include:
- Improved relationships and empathy
- Decreased anxiety and feelings of isolation
- Increased sense of control and purpose
- Rekindled social connections
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS DIY ART THERAPY?
Technically, art therapy is overseen by a qualified art therapist. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy art projects with your loved one at home or even in assisted living.
Painting, drawing, sculpting or coloring are just a few possibilities. Adult coloring books are an inexpensive way to get creative and can be found almost everywhere such as amazon, bookstore, pharmacy, or even craft stores! Whichever medium is selected, help your loved one get started in the right direction, but then let her or him continue on their own. This helps build a sense of independence and creativity.
Don’t just watch, join in on the fun! Participating in your own project side-by-side offers a chance to bond and encourages conversation. Also, creating together offers an excellent avenue to practice mindfulness, another activity that can be done in tandem with a senior. Creating can be so much fun that you both may lose a sense of time, so be sure to reserve enough that you can fully engage with all the beneficial aspects art therapy has to offer.