The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer's and is about 80% of cases of dementia. As the person ages, the symptoms become worse. When a person is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, loss of memory is mild, but as the disease moves to the late stage, communication ceases as well as responses to their environment.
How art therapy helps
Art therapy helps people with dementia to communicate differently. Art therapy can calm anxieties, soothe the person, lift depression and ease fears. It can improve the relationships, give the person a sense of validation, and encourage dignity. Art therapy can boost the person's self-esteem, help to recall memories, and provide an outlet for emotions which can not be able to be expressed otherwise.
It can also improve brain functions by activating neurons. Plus, it can increase attention span and help the person to focus. Studies have shown that making or looking at artwork can help to improve cognitive functions. Alternative brain strategies or more efficient networks are used by the brain to make connections which may have been thought to be lost or not apparent.
Art therapy is using a creative process to improve the mental, physical and emotional well-being of the person involved. By placing something on paper, or another type of medium, is a way to express their thoughts when words fail. The creative process, not the finished project is the goal to offer an alternate form of expression. It’s not for the purpose to criticize for coloring outside of lines, making the perfect drawing or painting a picture-perfect painting. It’s for a new form of communication and enjoyment for the person and the caregiver.
What type of projects
The projects chosen are at an adult level and can be needlework, drawing, painting or college. Adult coloring books are the trend at the moment, with all kinds and types of pictures. Colored pencils are usually used or even different types of markers. The person in charge needs to be aware of using safety scissors, keeping track of caps on paint and glue and have paper towels on hand. Be sure there's enough time allowed, so the person doesn't feel hurried or rushed which only increases anxiety.
Only use safe, non-toxic materials, larger crayons, and pictures without a lot of details. Watercolors should be bright primary colors, large brushes and a soft clay for sculpting. Find out what the person’s interests are/were before they came down with dementia. If they enjoyed gardening, find pictures of flowers if they enjoyed sports, bring that into the equation.
If doing scrapbooking, adding backgrounds with lots of color for photos to be added can bring back some old memories which can stimulate feelings of happiness. If there are other seniors in the art class, then it will help them to become involved socially as well.
The purpose of art therapy is for it to be an enjoyable experience that the person will want to recreate again.