dementia patient explores art therapy

Art Therapy Techniques in Memory Care

Inspīr Senior Living Team

When it comes to healthy aging and supporting longevity, a lot of emphasis is placed on the importance of a well-balanced diet and physical activity. However, both emotional and spiritual health play a large role in our overall well-being and ability to age gracefully. As we age, it’s not uncommon to lose the freedom of creative expression we had as children or even young adults. However, according to BetterHelp, engaging in active art making is therapeutic and beneficial for personal growth.

Art therapy sessions are used among older adults to help facilitate self-expression through art with the help of a certified art therapist. These sessions provide a safe space for older adults to explore their emotions, thoughts, and struggles through a wide range of art mediums specifically designed to improve a person’s quality of life. Through art therapy, individuals are able to explore their feelings, manage behavior, develop social skills, and reduce anxiety and agitation. While art therapy is beneficial to people of all ages, it has unique benefits for older adults with memory conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.


Benefits of Art Therapy for Those with Dementia

Art therapy services have been implemented into memory care communities as a way to support those with dementia. Creative activities, such as art projects, give the opportunity for non-verbal expression and help reduce agitation, boost mood and provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose. In fact, according to a study published by Hangzhou Normal University School of Medicine, art therapy is linked to improved attention and orientation of dementia patients, reducing behavioral and psychological symptoms and improving a person’s social skills. In addition to these findings, art therapy can provide the following benefits for those with dementia:

  • Stimulates the brain. Art is a great way for people with dementia to express their creativity and stimulate the brain by stirring dormant memories and sometimes encouraging speech. Some studies have even shown that art therapy can help boost cognitive function in areas of the brain, enhance communication and increase a person’s sense of confidence.
  • Creates good moments. People with dementia can experience very difficult moments of frustration, confusion and agitation. Art therapy can evoke smiles, laughter, and speech in those with Alzheimer’s disease, especially for those who are non-verbal.
  • Improves mood. Creating art can reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. The act of focusing on just one activity and getting lost in drawing or painting can help those with dementia relax and release tension and frustration.
  • Enhances motor skills. Painting and drawing, which are often included in art therapy activities, allow those with dementia to physically exercise their arms through movement. This allows participants to improve muscle coordination and enhance blood flow throughout the body.
  • Improves social interaction. Older adults, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, are at an increased risk of loneliness and isolation. Participating in group activities gives seniors the opportunity to meet new people through common interests.
  • Reduces anxiety and agitation. Many adults with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia experience anxiety and other personality changes. Art can help them stay calm and  feel less agitated even throughout the day.
  • Decreases risk of depression. As older adults tap into their own creativity, they’re often encouraged to express their feelings, even if only through their art. This can provide a release for built-up emotions, which can help promote emotional regulation.


What Can I Expect From Art Therapy?

A qualified art therapist will usually hold a master’s degree in art therapy or be a Registered Art Therapist. Typically art therapists work with people individually or in a group setting, provide the supplies needed to make the artwork and spend time talking through the meanings and symbols behind the project. Art therapy can be adapted to fit different needs and skill levels. It’s less about the final artwork and more about the process of creating art. Many art therapists use simple materials and tools for their projects such as watercolors, pastels, drawing materials and collage. If you’re interested in participating in art therapy, you may be able to find offerings within your own senior living communities or through off-site providers in your community.


Tips for Art Therapy at Home

If you don’t have access to an art therapist, creating art in your own home or with your loved one can be just as beneficial. While it’s not technically art therapy without a certified therapist, finding ways to express your creativity through art projects will still provide feelings of accomplishment and outlets for emotions, especially for those with memory deficits. Here are a few tips and ideas to get you started, as provided by the Alzheimer’s Association:

  • When you’re planning an art activity for someone with middle to late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to avoid anything that might be childlike or demeaning.
  • Be sure to use safe materials and avoid toxic substances.
  • Help the person begin the activity. For example, if you’re painting, you may need to help your loved one start the brush stroke.
  • Allow plenty of time, but keep in mind that your loved one doesn’t have to finish their project in one sitting. They can always come back to it!
  • Build conversation into the project and provide encouragement by discussing what the person is creating and how they’re feeling.
  • If you need inspiration for art projects you might start with a simple memory box, collage art, painted rocks or bead jewelry.


Art Therapy at Inspīr Senior Living

At Inspīr Senior Living, art is one of our Nine Core Elements and we know that infusing art into the lives of our Oceana Memory Care residents has many benefits. We craft a lifestyle based on each resident’s unique interests, needs, and abilities for physical, mental, and spiritual fulfillment. Our art therapy experiences focus on each individual’s capabilities, as opposed to what they have lost.

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