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Can Art Help You Connect to a Loved One with Dementia? Yes!

The Alzheimer’s Organization, in a recent article, provided a striking example of the power art can have on individuals struggling with dementia. They describe two individuals who had lost their ability to communicate verbally, but who were able to express their lifelong passions through art. In one case, a man painted the birdhouses he had collected in his earlier years and, in another example, an individual who had always had a tropical fish tank painted fish. In both cases, the act of painting connected these people with memories that might have otherwise might have remained buried forever.

There have been numerous studies over recent decades that support the use of art therapy for individuals with dementia. While the connection through art is particularly strong for former artists, therapists and researchers have found that virtually anyone, regardless of skill or talent, can benefit from painting, drawing and other forms of art, such as working with clay or textiles.

Of course, creating art is something that caregivers, along with their loved ones with dementia can enjoy together. Art activities, if kept simple and stress free can be relaxing for everyone. If you have a mom or dad with dementia you may want to consider adding some art projects into your care routine. Before you rush in with paints and paper, however, here are five things to keep in mind to make the experience more enjoyable.

  1. Plan each art activity when you have at least a couple of hours free. Rushed projects can actually increase stress levels and have a negative effect on your loved one and on yourself.
  2. Make sure that the art project is uncomplicated, yet geared towards an adult, not a child. Simple projects don’t have to be childish.
  3. Be safe. Keep sharp object and paints with toxic ingredients away from your craft table.
  4. You should take the lead. Get things started by taking a colored pencil, or dipping your own paintbrush first.
  5. Be encouraging. Positive comments will keep your loved one more connected to the project.

Use your art experience together as a way to live more “in the moment” with your loved one. Be open to communicating both verbally and non-verbally. Be especially alert to body language and facial expressions. They will help signal when to continue and when to conclude your session.

Explore different projects. Take your time to find one that fits. Your loved one may or may not connect to an early memory or unlock a new way of communicating. However, the process of sitting and painting, sketching or shaping a clay bowl will become precious time spent together.

At our Anthem Memory Care communities our residents enjoy a schedule of regular art activities. It is a relaxing and enjoyable time for everyone. We have found artistic expression in all forms to be beneficial in helping connect residents to our caregivers and to their own family members. They can for you as well.