Art is more than just a chance to be creative; it provides a sense of accomplishment, creates a nonverbal form of expression, reduces stress and anxiety while also helping maintain flexibility and strength on our hands. This blog will discuss the theoretical basis of art therapy for people living with dementia, provide some examples of art activities and explain how art therapy can also be beneficial for caregivers.
How does art help with dementia: theoretical basis of art therapy
In Advances in art therapy for patients with dementia, Qiu-Yue Wang and Dong-Mei Li describe the theoretical basis of art therapy. Art theory is rooted in the theory of brain lateralisation. This explains the left brain as the “academic brain” and the right brain as the “art brain”. The left brain manages logic, language, reasoning while the right brain manages emotions and creativity. When processing information, the right side creates an impression of imagery, transmitting that to the left brain to verbalise. As dementia progresses, it can become more challenging for individuals to express themselves through language and memory. The challenges of verbalising emotions can be redirected to help express themselves through art. When individuals' ability to communicate their emotions is impaired, negative feelings may arise, which could lead to behavioural and psychological symptoms, like anxiety and depression. Art therapy can provide an outlet for these negative emotions, giving people a new way of communicating and venting emotions to improve their quality of life.
Additionally, art therapy helps with hand brain interaction. Art materials can be soft and easy to hold, helping to improve flexibility and finger hand-eye coordination. Through art activity, the fine motor functions are utilised, helping to strengthen and maintain these skills.
There are a variety of art projects that can be done. Each person is different and will have their take on the project. Here are some examples of art projects that can be enjoyed:
Reminiscing painting: Bring up different images and pictures to show the individuals, ask if they bring about any emotions or memories. Then begin painting. They can paint anything they want in whichever method suits them. This can be an increasingly social activity as well by asking questions about what they are drawing and asking them to share their thoughts on their creations.
Paper flowers: Through the use of cardboard templates, paper is cut and shaped into flowers. Find out more here on how to create them!
Colouring: As dementia progresses, it may be more challenging for individuals to draw an image. Colouring provides a great alternative. There are a variety of colouring books and posters that can be used. A great way to reuse this art is by turning them into cards that can be given or mailed to family and friends.
Clay modelling: There are a variety of clay types, oil-based, polymer-based, and air-dry clay. Different wooden clay modelling tools can also be purchased to assist in making their creations.
Paint-by-numbers: Paint-by-numbers kits are a great pre-drawn option. The instructions are simple and allow the individual to complete an entire painting that can be displayed.
Career-based activities: Career-based activities can help the individual stay connected to their past. For example, if the individual was a former carpenter, they may enjoy creating something out of wood or simply sanding a piece of wood. Or if they worked in a post office, they could enjoy decorating cards or placing stamps on envelopes.
Putting together collages: Using photos, magazine cutouts, and embellishments, people can create collages or scrapbooks to help trigger or share a memory. Consider using old newspapers and magazines to help trigger memories closer rated to the time and style they are used to.
Art therapy does not have to be just painting, and there are many creative options for people. These activities can also be altered to make them manageable for individuals at all stages of dementia. Here are some tips for successful art therapy:
Keep the project at an adult level. Avoid child-like activities that may feel demeaning to those participating.
Demonstrate and help guide those participating. Simply helping them get started may give them the confidence they need to be creative independently.
Be sure materials are safe. Review the paints and materials to ensure they are not toxic or sharp.
Give those participating plenty of time. Reassure them that their projects do not have to be completed in one sitting
Benefits art therapy can have for carers
Art therapy not only benefits those living with dementia, but it can be beneficial for the carer as well. Recognising the subtle changes and progression of dementia in an individual can be very difficult. Additionally, as the person with dementia progresses communication challenges will arise. Art can be helpful in both these instances. The carer can use art to identify when someone's dementia might be progressing. Changes in style, colour, symmetry, and accuracy can elude changes in dementia and its effect on the individual. With art, the individual is given a new channel of better understand; the caregiver can use this new nonverbal form of communication to understand the individual’s emotions and behaviours better.
Art may feel challenges if the individual has never done art before, but they can start at any age! Art can be a great way to communicate, release anxieties and stress, express one's emotions and maintain hand-eye coordination. It only takes a few supplies to get started; let us know what you create and leave a comment below!