Research has proven beneficial correlations between the Arts and dementia. The art-making process develops neural systems that produce a broad spectrum of benefits ranging from fine motor skills to creativity and improved emotional balance.
Art has even been integrated into programs that help those who suffer from dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association has proclaimed that art projects can help people suffering with dementia — as well as caregivers — opportunities for meaningful self-expression and purpose.
In the Alzheimer’s Association magazine it was announced: “Over the years, art and Alzheimer’s has been a pertinent topic in the public domain and at the Chapter, ranging from educational programs at NYC museums to scientific research citing the benefits of incorporating art in memory care.”
The Association has developed a wonderful volunteer program “Outreach”, led in partnership with a dedicated memory loss facility in New York City, NY. The program emphasizes art engagement as a means to connect with people who have dementia and facilitate their self-expression. Volunteers learn how to communicate with this population and participate in debriefing sessions.
The Alzheimer’s Association has created another outstanding art program titled Memories in the Making® (MIM). It initially began in Colorado and is spreading to different chapters around the country. This program, “gives people with dementia the ability to paint their thoughts, emotions and memories. The art becomes their voice.” The Memories in the Making® (MIM) art program provides these benefits: “Improves self esteem; Serves as an outlet for emotions; Increases attention span and focus; Activates neurons; Reduces isolation and provides oppotunity to socialize; Taps into pockets of memory that still exist; and Reconnects families.” For more information about this program visit http://www.alz.org/co/in_my_community_art_program.asp
Other organizations that provide services for dementia victims are on the rise. One such organization is Arts 4 Dementia (AAD). Based in the UK it was founded by Veronica Franklin Gould, “to fill a vital gap in dementia care, to help develop and co-ordinate artistic opportunities to re-energise and inspire people in the early stages of dementia, to provide quality time for them, their families and carers.”
Arts4Dementia suggests many ways the arts can help and offers this advice: “Access your natural creative skill: take photographs, paint, draw, model, play the piano, listen to live music, play music, dance, sing, exercise, explore the scents and arrangements of flowers, garden plants, trees.”
How Art Helped My Mother
My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s for nearly ten years. As her primary caretaker, I was acutely aware of the horrendous impact of the disease. When her verbal skills became diminished I would often use art as a means of communication with her. For example, we would draw hearts with crayons on paper to express our love for each other.
I also learned to use the healing power of music. My mother’s favorite song was “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”. (The lyrics were written by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman and original music written by Michel Legrand for the 1969 film The Happy Ending.) I remember when I was a child she taught herself to play the song on our baby grand piano. She also taught me how to play it. So, when she had Alzheimer’s I bought her a small keyboard. To my happy surprise she remembered the song. We shared countless hours of pure joy, tears and laughter playing this song together almost up to the final stages of her disease.