Benefits of Art Therapy for
Individuals with Alzheimer’s

Benefits of Art Therapy for
Individuals with Alzheimer’s

“A wealth of research has demonstrated that participation in creative activities promotes health and well-being by stimulating curiosity and self-evaluation, by encouraging individuals to express themselves in meaningful ways, and by affirming their dignity and self-worth.” ~ a quote by The Society for the Arts in Dementia Care

There truly is an amazing amount of research supporting art therapy as a method of improving the lives of someone with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

What is Art Therapy?

Depending on which organization you ask, you’ll get various definitions for art therapy. Basically, art therapy creates and provides an environment where art can be created. When looking at various organizational definitions you’ll find phrases like “creative process of art-making” and “therapeutic use of art.”

These organizations state the following benefits can be obtained when using art as a therapeutic agent:

  • Improves and enhances physical, mental and emotional well-being
  • Helps individuals explore feelings, manage behaviors, reconcile emotional conflicts, improve reality orientation and develop social skills
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Fosters self-awareness
  • Increases self-esteem

The American Art Therapy Association states, “Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others; cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and, enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.”

Art Therapy and Alzheimer’s

The above benefits and statements concerning art therapy were written with the general public in mind; however, art therapy provides the same benefits to those who have Alzheimer’s, providing marked improvements in emotional, mental and physical well-being.

For someone with Alzheimer’s, language is often affected fairly early in the disease process making communication difficult, which in turn leads to frustration and agitation. This frustration builds up and creates a powder keg that waits for an opportunity to explode.

As scientists have discovered, Alzheimer’s generally has minimal impact on the parts of the brain related to emotions, creative expression and creativity. This makes art therapy the ideal choice for those who have Alzheimer’s.

Art therapy provides a way for people to communicate when words fail them. Someone who cannot express themselves verbally is able to create a representation of their feelings and thoughts through the use of paint or some other medium. By releasing these feelings, their frustration levels are lowered and they’re less likely to have outbursts of pent-up emotions.

Benefits are even achieved while enjoying the artwork of others, having comparable mental, physical and emotional effects on someone with Alzheimer’s making it a powerful tool in anyone’s art therapy toolbox.

Just as in all things that have to do with Alzheimer’s care, you must be prepared to adapt and change when using art therapy. If someone is resistant to doing the artwork themselves, you might have to start out slowly by doing the artwork yourself while you sit together and talk, asking for their input on what color or material to use as you work on the project. As the project progresses, they may want to do more than offer an opinion on what should happen next. Any amount of involvement provides therapeutic benefits. When the project is finished and as they admire the results, they’re sure to experience some pride in how they helped create this work of art.

Picking out an activity they’ll enjoy is important; however, as shown in this video, Painting in Twilight: An Artist’s Escape from Alzheimer’s, sometimes new talent in areas not otherwise explored can be found through the use of art therapy. Try different projects. Explore and experiment. Be prepared to set something aside that’s not working and perhaps try it again on a different day.

Most importantly, remember “art” is a verb. The act of being involved in and enjoyment of the creative process is what’s important. If the project helps them to communicate where words have failed them, or if they take pride in what is accomplished as they work on the project, the goal of art therapy has been achieved. The final product matters little.

“They can lose themselves in the moment as they create,” shares Dr. Daniel C. Potts, founder of Cognitive Dynamics. He goes on to share that the process of art therapy:

  • Helps build relationships
  • Fosters empathy
  • Lessens anxiety
  • Offers a sense of mastery over what they have created

Art therapy provides a way for someone to express themselves. Dr. Potts goes on to say, “Roadblocks to verbal communication laid by dementia are bypassed through the artistic process, and individuals can express themselves through the art. Concentration and attention improve, and patients are often easier to care for even when the therapy is over.”

Getting Started with Art Therapy

If you’re ready to get started, contact your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association or the Area Agencies on Aging to find out if they know of any local art therapy resources or programs. Daycare centers, Alzheimer’s support groups and Alzheimer’s disease centers at academic institutions may have programs of their own or can recommend a program.

To get you started, these articles offer suggestions you can try:

And, lastly, here is a Pinterest board with lots of therapeutic art for dementia. With all these ideas, you’re sure to find several activities that will work for you.

Art Therapy in Action

Art Therapy has shown to have amazing benefits for many, even allowing individuals who have never previously drawn or painted to create surprising works of art. Here are a few YouTube videos that share how art and art therapy have impacted people’s lives as they struggle with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

Hopefully, after viewing these videos and seeing the amazing results art can accomplish, even allowing a person to find the words they want to express but were unable to say prior to taking part in art therapy activities, you’re ready to share an art activity with someone.

If you have any questions about art therapy and its benefits or if you’re searching for the perfect community for someone who needs memory care in Williamsburg, contact us here at Berkeley Oaks. We specialize in innovative memory care services for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and work hard to meet the needs of residents and their families.