Senior Living Blog

Using the Creative Arts to Help People Living with Dementia

June 20, 2019

older woman with dementia painting

Most people are familiar with the power of the arts to transform lives and alter one’s perception of the world. Many of us have had the experience of having a book, movie, or play provide a springboard for future dreams and aspirations. Most of us have experienced what it’s like to have a favorite song or painting transport us to a different place and time.

It’s no different for people living with dementia. The creative arts are quickly becoming a proven therapy to boost memory and serve as an outlet for those with communication challenges to express themselves.

A study at the Boston University School of Medicine discovered that people living with Alzheimer’s were better able to remember new information when it was provided in the context of a song. Music & Memory, a nonprofit organization that creates personalized music programs for older Americans, has had great success in working with those living with dementia. A Brown University study found that senior living communities that adopted the Music & Memory program saw a significant decline in residents using antipsychotic drugs and engaging in disruptive behaviors compared to those communities that didn’t adopt the program.

Painting is becoming a very popular form of art therapy and was highlighted in the documentary film “I Remember Better When I Paint,” which depicts numerous instances of people living with dementia who have transformative experiences when they pick up a paint brush.

Other art forms that have been shown to have positive benefits include dancing, sculpting and singing. It has long been known that for people of every age, the act of creating is life enhancing and nourishing to the human spirit. For older adults, research demonstrates that participating in artistic expression provides many benefits.

Self-Expression / Emotional Well-being
Creating something new allows people to announce “This is who I am. This is what I have to say.” Expressive art can provide vivid access to memories, and is a useful starting point for reminiscence and life review. The act of creating allows us another way to share our lives and receive validation for who we are.

People who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally are often able to communicate through visual means. For people living with dementia, autism or other conditions that create barriers to verbal communication, visual art can provide an alternative.

Intellectual Stimulation
The act of creating is a great way to exercise the brain. Deciding what media to use, what to draw or paint, and where to put the first line all provide mental exercise. An art project can represent a stimulating challenge to be met, increasing orientation and awareness.

Visiting a museum or going to the theater allows people to have a shared experience and may induce them to share their feelings and emotions with others.

Categories: Senior Health