For Alzheimer’s Patients: Using Art When Words No Longer Work

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that gradually takes away your loved one’s ability to communicate with words.  However, experts are discovering other ways of communicating with your family member to maintain a connection.

Scientists who have studied this correlation say that art helps the patient to gain access to memories that are locked up.  It is believed that memories are stored as images rather than words.  Alzheimer’s does not take away the person’s memories, but the access to them.  Art seems to get that access back.

How Art Helps

Art is being used to help Alzheimer’s patients communicate with their caregivers.  It has also been shown to calm Alzheimer’s patients when they are agitated and help them not feel as isolated.  It helps them to show their feelings when they cannot express them in any other way, which can reduce the effects of negative feelings such as anger or anxiety.

Art also helps to improve their ability to focus and concentrate.  Seniors can often continue to recognize colours and shapes even after they have forgotten words.

You will often see an improvement in Alzheimer’s patients’ mood with art therapy.  It has a calming affect similar to listening to music.  The effects are the same whether they are viewing or creating art; this allows anyone to benefit even if they can only sit and look at pictures.

It can provide valuable bonding time between the patient and caregiver and allow the patients to communicate with other people when other methods of communication are gone.

How to Use Art Therapy at Home

While art therapy is often conducted in a professional setting, you can also use these same methods at home.  Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  • Make an art project a routine activity.  This gives people with Alzheimer’s something to remember and look forward to each day.  Don’t worry about what it looks like; enjoy letting them be creative.  This can also help them remember their daily routine easier with what comes before and after the daily art project.
  • Use safe and simple materials to keep them from getting hurt or frustrated.  Watercolours, markers and crayons make ideal art supplies.  Clay is another good option since it doesn’t matter if they use it correctly.
  • Find out if your city has an art class available for people with Alzheimer’s.  This could be a good way to get them out and get them involved with other people.
  • Look at art by visiting a museum or art gallery.  Looking at art displays can be enjoyable and help them retain their focus on one thing for a period of time.
  • Make a scrapbook with your senior loved one.  The amount they can assist will depend on what stage of the disease they are in, but they may be able to help with organizing or handing you items.  Looking at old photos can stimulate their memory.

This is also an activity the senior can do with their grandchildren as part of bonding time.  Children often feel like their grandparent have forgotten them which is partially true (due to the Alzheimer’s), but an art project can help both of them forget about the disease for a while.

When planning an art project for your loved one, take into account their former interests and their current abilities.  If they used to enjoy painting, try to get them involved in that again.  If they liked photography, get them a simple camera to use.

Do not create projects that seem childish, especially to those who are still fairly independent.  Select projects based on their level of activity at the time.  Don’t expect them to finish the project in one sitting, allow them to work at their own pace even if they get distracted.

This is an excellent activity to have homecare service caregivers to be involved in.  If you have a caregiver coming to your parents’ or your home to assist with your loved one, you can have them work with the senior on art projects.  This will give you a much needed break and it will provide regular stimulation for the senior.

Carefect Home Care Services provides caregivers to help your loved ones in their time of need.  Our Caregivers can assist with basic housekeeping and personal care tasks as well as much more.  They will sit down with your senior loved ones and look through old photo albums or take out old home videos and watch them together as the senior tells the story of the images.