More important than the finished products, the process of creating art helps us to express unresolved emotions and relieve accumulated stress. For some seniors, art can play an integral role in addressing mental and physical health. The benefits of art therapy range from a decrease in anxiety and the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to an increase in brain stimulation among dementia patients.
Unfortunately, not all senior living communities offer art therapy programs for their residents, but they do have the necessary resources to get started. With a few balls of yarn and a sheet of blank paper, you can introduce art into your loved one’s life and give them the opportunity to access the benefits of art therapy.
Improving Memory Care through Art and Dance
Once an artist, always an artist. Seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s may have difficulties with memorizing names and dates, but many can still tap into their inner artistic skills. Sheila Guffey, a teacher at The Fine Arts Institute of Edmond, has found great success with her monthly art programs geared toward seniors with Alzheimer’s. Painting and clay sculpting gives them a chance to use their muscle memory while expressing themselves in a calm and relaxing environment. Other ideas for Memory Care and art include weaving and crocheting.
In contrast to the quiet workstations of Sheila Guffey’s art program, Nathan Hescock from the non-profit organization Rhythm Break Cares teaches seniors how to move and groove to the sounds of swing. Seniors who participate in dance as a form of physical therapy can improve their motor skills, memory, and decrease the chance of falls.
In his interview with the Art Therapy Blog, Hescock explains how the lasting memories of dance spring from a patient’s memories. “These are the people who grew up with ballroom dance as part of their pop culture. We do ballroom dance now, but back then, that was what everybody did.” While the music jogs back memories, the physical activity helps them to stay active and healthy.
Helping Veterans Cope with PTSD
The memories of wartime often stay with a veteran decades after their service. In some cases, veterans may not even realize they have PTSD until symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks worsen in their senior years. These veterans often feel hesitant to disclose their emotions and do not have a healthy outlet to express themselves when they wish to.
Art therapy gives senior veterans a solution where they can communicate those emotions in a safe and healthy way. Whether they paint with oil on canvas or sketch graphite on a notepad, the ability to draw out their feelings can give them a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and relief—a benefit some seniors might not have when speaking to a person.
Starting an Art Therapy Program for a Loved One
If you wish to integrate an art therapy program into your loved one’s daily routine, the following tips provided by the American Art Therapy Association will help you develop an effective program.
Add Variety – Give your loved one some variety when it comes to the different art projects they work on. Explore options beyond painting and drawing by including sculpture, dance, knitting, and basket weaving. Each new art style will give your parent a new way to think and keep them engaged.
Offer a Helping Hand – For some seniors, assistance with art can be useful but for others, it can feel overbearing. Give your loved one the flexibility to express their creativity on their own. If they need help holding a paintbrush, give them a hand; if not, let them work through the project on their own. The ability to make decisions can give them a sense of autonomy, control, and confidence.
Learn to Communicate through Art – Art is a form of communication. The prevalence of blues and the subjects your loved one chooses to paint may give you a window into their current state of mind. Ask your loved one questions and have them explain their artistic decisions. Be mindful of what they make and see if their creations tell a story.
The Healing Power of Art
With only a few supplies and an hour or two each day, you can elevate your loved one’s mood and give them a chance to release their emotions onto paper. Use this time to connect with each other, communicate, and grow closer one brush stroke at a time.