Cheryl Mooney has been an art teacher for thirty years. Time and time again, she has seen the positive, therapeutic impact art can have on people’s lives, no matter their age or stage. “Therapy has always been a part of art for me,” she said, but now that her husband Tim is a resident in the Starr Memory Care Residence, its importance has been heightened.
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that encourages self-expression through media such as painting, modeling, drawing, collage, and coloring. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, art can enrich the lives of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. When practiced in a supportive environment, art allows people to express themselves without fear of being judged. “There is no right or wrong way to make art,” Cheryl said. “The important thing is just making it a part of residents’ routines.”
Art allows residents to express their thoughts and feelings. It can trigger dormant memories and emotions and brings up the most important pieces of someone’s life, whether it’s their favorite childhood pet or a family trip. “Art becomes a form of communication,” Cheryl said. “From someone’s art, you can see what they’re thinking about and what is important to them, creating an opportunity for caregivers to start a meaningful conversation.”
When therapists and caregivers encourage those with dementia to explore their feelings by engaging in the creative process, it enhances the quality of life for not only the resident but also the caregiver. It can aid in managing behavior, processing feelings, and reducing stress for all parties involved. Art therapy provides a way for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s to preserve their sense of self and validates them, regardless of how far their disease has progressed. It shows the person that their story matters to others (www.alzheimers.net).
“Art helps remind them that they can still add beauty to the world for others to enjoy,” Cheryl said. “It does not matter what it looks like because the important part is that they were able to make something themselves.”
Brandi Burgess, Administrator of Assisted Living and Memory Care, echoed Cheryl’s statement and encourages the use of art therapy. “The value of art with dementia is immeasurable,” Brandi said. “Art allows those who are often without a voice to speak and share about their experiences with the world around them,” said Brandi.
Providing opportunities for those with dementia to engage in art is a simple, but incredibly important, way to help. Taking the time to create something with a resident can make all the difference in their lives and shows that it truly is better to give than to receive.