Art therapy can be very beneficial for older adults who have memory loss or difficulties communicating. Memory loss therapy, led by an art therapist, can include drawing, painting, sculpture or other forms of visual art. Jenn Ross, an art therapist at Chicago Methodist Senior Services, notes that art therapy often helps to reduce anxiety and depression, improve personal communication and relationships, and enhance quality of life.
Communication and memory loss therapy
People with memory loss often have trouble communicating. Of course we assume that memories will fade, but the ability to speak and write can also disappear. Art therapy reaches past cognitive losses to draw out self-expression, emotional release and creativity. A trained instructor can guide participants through the process of interpreting art or creating it themselves.
Through several small trials and case studies, the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that art therapy helped to engage the attention of people with dementia. Not only did this form of memory loss therapy provide pleasure but it also improved neuropsychiatric symptoms, social behavior and self-esteem. By helping people with memory loss communicate in new ways, art therapy is invaluable for improving their daily lives.
CMSS offers a wide variety of art classes and therapies, including open studios, watercolor groups and the Art Institute of Chicago’s Art in the Moment Program, specifically designed for older adults with memory loss.
In addition, Ross adds, “Volunteers from the Art Institute of Chicago come to our communities and give art-history slide presentations through a program called Art Insights, which residents enjoy.” Although not art therapy per se, these talks are another way of engaging people through art.
Art for everyone
Proper guidance is an important component of art therapy. A qualified therapist knows how to make older adults feel comfortable engaging in art and participating in a memory loss therapy session. If you’re interested in art therapy for a loved one, find an art therapist or group to develop a specific plan built around engaging their creativity.
Even without professional help, you can encourage your loved one to create some form of art at home. Painting is a good place to begin. Choose a bright palette for more stimulation. Loosely plan a project to get your loved one started, but avoid setting end goals. Focus on nurturing creative impulses. There’s really no wrong way to engage a person with art, as long as they’re enjoying the experience.
Most importantly, listen and respond to what they like. That may mean you need to try out different media. If they don’t connect to painting, try drawing or coloring with colored pencils. Allow your loved one to indulge their creativity, and keep trying until you find a medium that feels right.
Ross works with older adults in group classes and also crafts individualized programs.
“Art therapy can look different for each participant,” she says. “The ability to tailor it to anybody’s needs
is one reason the results can be so powerful. Creating, observing and discussing art can alleviate mental health symptoms. It also works occupationally to improve physical mobility and reduce pain.”
Art connects us to each other and to ourselves. By helping your loved one dive into art therapy, you may help reignite a spark in their lives.
FURTHER READING: American Art Therapy Association
To learn more about memory loss therapy and more at CMSS, download our brochure today.