The number of people worldwide living with dementia—more than 47 million people—is projected to nearly triple to 135.5 million by 2050. As the leading cause of disability and dependency among older adults, dementia is considered one of the leading public health challenges. Researchers around the globe are working to identify effective treatments to stop, slow and prevent the disease.
Among those myriad studies, several are finding art therapy to be a powerful tool for helping to enhance cognitive performance, self-expression, social interaction and quality of life in people with dementia.
Activities such as playing music, scrapbooking, taking photographs, drawing, painting, writing and listening to poetry, and dancing give people with dementia the ability to express their thoughts, emotions and personal experiences a nonverbal way. Essentially, art becomes their voice.
This mode of expression is shown to stimulate the whole brain, while triggering latent memories and positive emotions. Thus, art not only offers an opportunity for people with dementia to reminisce and connect socially, but also helps increase memory retrieval, reduce agitation and improve attention.
Integrating art into intervention can help foster dignity and a sense of accomplishment in patients with dementia. When planning an art activity for someone with dementia, keep these 10 tips in mind:
- Incorporate conversation into the activity by asking open-ended questions.
- Help the person start the activity and provide assistance when needed.
- Use an assortment of materials that are safe, colorful, easy to manipulate, and made from various textures and designs to stimulate visual and motor abilities.
- Watch for nonverbal expressions and validate the individual’s feelings.
- Use personal photos and picture books to inspire projects and themes.
- Play music to elevate moods and encourage movement (clapping, dancing) throughout the activity.
- Set up a simple, comfortable environment to avoid sensory overload.
- Adapt activities to suit the client’s interests and abilities.
- Allow plenty of time for the creative process, rather than focusing on the end product.
- Display works of art prominently to honor the person’s life stories and promote feelings of personal achievement.
Whether your artistry skills rival that of a preschooler or Vincent Van Gogh, incorporating art projects into your sessions can be a fun and meaningful way to work on treatment goals for people with dementia.
Do you know of some fun ways to use art in therapy with older adults? Comment below to share your ideas!
Mandie Oslund is a clinical fellow working in the rehabilitation of acute communication and swallowing disorders of medically complex patients at University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; and 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. firstname.lastname@example.org