A person’s ability to string together words to create sentences and communicate is one of the earliest skills that are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Those that look after people with Alzheimer’s will notice that patients struggle with finding the words to express themselves.
They do try and communicate with you but they fail to do so because of how their disease affects them.
Everyone struggles to express themselves every now and then where you know the words are on the ‘tip of your tongue’ and yet you can’t seem to find them. This is exactly when Alzheimer’s patients experience but at a whole new level.
Using Art and Therapy for Alzheimer’s Patients
An Alzheimer’s patient’s creativity skills are affected much after the disease impacts their language and communication abilities. This is why using art as a form of communication makes complete sense. Alzheimer’s patients can choose from a variety of art mediums. They can choose anything from sculpting, creative writing, painting, dancing and other performing arts. You just need to provide them with an outlet so they don’t get overwhelmed with their inability to express themselves in words.
Even an easy-to-use digital camera can give them some independence (which they enjoy) and give them a chance to explore their surroundings. The more types of art you can get them to enjoy, the better it is for them.
There are several art therapy programs out there dedicated to Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients. Although getting Alzheimer’s patients involved in art is a step should help improve their moods, to really reap the benefits of art therapy, it is best to have the patient to work with an art therapist.
Because not everyone can afford to spend cash on an art therapist, here are some ways caregivers and loved ones can help patients out.
- Stimulate the creative process:
Create a comfortable setting for the patient that triggers their creative juices. Pop on some music that they enjoy. Have the place well lit – natural light is even better. Place the ‘model’ (the bowl of fruits, vase etc.) in front of them and make sure that is well lit too.
2. Prepare the material in advance
This is especially important if you’re working with a group of patients. Have all the material that the patients can possibly ask for ready before you bring them to the setting. If you’re running around looking for material, you can cause them to become irritated.
3. Praise the art
Your patient(s) are not trained artists. You should find that their art does improve over time but your job really isn’t to judge their art; it’s to use the art to communicate with them. Ask them questions about the art that they produce while praising them generously.
4. Get them to open up
Because communication is your priority, you need to use the art to get the patients to open up. You can do this in a group or one-to-one. Discuss the art created by the patient in detail, show them you are interested in what they made and ask lots of questions. When you encourage them to talk, you are activating their minds and stimulating thought creation.
5. Get them to sign it
Make the patients sign their artworks, it gives them a sense of pride and ownership. Signing their work also ensures that patients do not lose their work (since Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients suffer from memory loss).
6. Make it fun
It’s not a classroom; this is supposed to be therapeutic and enjoyable. If for whatever reason the patient is not up for doing art then let it be. It’s common for Alzheimer’s patients to have anger outbursts, you don’t want to do anything to trigger it. It’s best to move them on to another activity instead of forcing them to do something they don’t want.
Communication needs to be at the core of your art session. Try and begin the session with a short discussion. It could be about the weather, some event or a part memory – anything that they like talking about and can express through art.
Having discussions with them validates their thoughts and emotions; it reinforces their self-worth and also exercises their verbal communication.
Sherley Alaba is an eagle-eyed wordsmith; a writer and translator, always interested in ways which can help individuals (especially youth and women) reach their full creative potential. Her focus has been on writing, producing and editing stories on business, finance, interesting personalities, entrepreneurs, culture, the environment, gastronomy, lifestyle, and social issues.