Family Living Focus: Art for Alzheimer’s Disease

Loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s may be struggling from the four “A’s” of the disease – anxiety, agitation, aggression and apathy.  Another “A” is a proven way to lessen the other symptoms, while providing a sense of peace and familiarity for loved ones. That is “Art.”

Many museums and other art-based facilities nationwide are recognizing the importance of what they can offer to the growing memory loss and Alzheimer’s-stricken population. For caregivers, this is a welcomed and enriching way to improve their loved one’s quality of life. Medical care is essential, but many caregivers struggle with finding ways to give care in a more meaningful manner.

Communication

through Art

Caregivers know that when dementia or Alzheimer’s takes away a person’s ability to communicate clearly, or at all, it’s frustrating for a loved one. Art has been found to give back the ability of self-expression to these people, and a sense of connection with others.

Art, whether through paintings, dance, music, folk art, or relics of an era gone by, is a way to bridge a loved one’s personality and life experiences with their present-day lives. This is especially important in those with memory loss. As with any other person, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s know what they like, and are able to express that consistently, even through non-verbal cues.

Alzheimer’s and dementia damage the portions of the brain that have to do with memory and planning complex tasks, while the areas involved in emotion and aesthetic appreciation are functional for much longer.  Experts say that looking at paintings and other art mediums activate those preserved systems and stimulate the brain. Research shows that participating in art-focused programs helps relieve symptoms of depression, improve cognition and also increase social skills.

Many skilled care and assisted living facilities are tapping into this knowledge to reach their population in a more engaging manner. Old photographs, even if not of personal acquaintances or places, are a way to prompt memory and discussion. Many people will recognize a farm, and whether it’s their own or not, have stories to go with that picture.

Group-living homes are found decorated with corporate prints, more suited to a hotel or office. Loved ones will be more appreciative of art that speaks to them. The same can be said if a loved one lives with a caregiver. Taking the time to make a home engaging and surrounded by art which strikes memories is a benefit for all. 

Museums Making

a Difference

In addition to art experiences at home, museums nationwide are beginning to recognize the ability they have to give loved ones with memory loss a place to regain a piece of their formal selves.

Museum experiences offer loved ones, and caregivers:

• an opportunity for personal growth,

• idea exchange without needing to rely on short-term memory,

• opportunity to access long-term memories,

• insight into a loved one’s ideas and interests,

• means to make connection between experiences and the world

• social setting, and

• respite, both physically and psychologically.

——

Information adapted from article by Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer in the Today’s Caregiver Newsletter, December 26, 2013 – Issue #674.

If you would like more information on “Art for Alzheimer’s Disease” contact Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus – University of Minnesota at waldn001@umn.edu. Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus™ information in next week’s paper.

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