Each year, with the help of the National Center for Assisted Living, we dedicate one week to celebrate the people and residents who make assisted living special. This year’s theme, “A Spark of Creativity” invites us to explore the role of art in senior communities and the way it encourages communication and self-expression. While there are many different forms of creativity, one of the most common amongst the senior population is art therapy. This type of therapy uses art as a way to address specific conditions, like Alzheimer’s and Dementia, while gaining healing benefits. As art therapy gains popularity within senior living communities, research suggests that there are benefits for many older adults, not only those who are diagnosed with memory disorders.
Benefits of Art therapy for Older Adults
Serves as an alternative method of communication
As adults age, nearly 40% will be diagnosed with an age related memory impairment. When memory impairment worsens, many adults will experience a loss of language or difficulty in recalling words and building sentences. This can make communicating with family and loved ones extremely difficult and sometimes impossible. However, art therapy gives these older adults an alternative way to communicate. The techniques used in art therapy stem from parts of the brain that language and communication do not. Not only does this enable self-expression, but it also enables families to connect to their loved one in new ways.
As we age, we can experience a number of changes in our physical abilities. While many older adults experience a loss of memory, others experience a loss of hearing, low vision, or other physical handicaps that can take away one’s autonomy. Oftentimes, this loss of independence can lead to feelings of depression. Art therapy, however, encourages socialization, reduces boredom and leaves older adults feeling accomplished and proud. As an added bonus, many adults find they have true artistic talent!
Advances cognitive abilities
Many older adults, even those who don’t suffer from memory disorders, lose some of their cognitive abilities as they age. Art therapy, while known for its psychological benefits, can actually improve cognition after time. Many art therapy techniques use sensory items, like holding a paintbrush, or squeezing clay, to complete art projects. These repeated movements can encourage the body to remember basic movements and improve their function.
A way to rediscover yourself
Regardless of memory loss or physical handicaps, the foundation of art therapy encourages older adults to connect to their emotions in ways they haven’t already pursued. By using a different part of the brain, art therapy students are able to express their emotions not only through their completed project, but also within the process. Art therapy goes beyond physical artwork and dives into the importance of self-autonomy. As adults lose their independence, art therapy reinforces their individuality by connecting with their emotions and expressing them though art and motion.
Maplewood Gets Artistic
As we celebrate “A Spark of Creativity” during this year’s Assisted Living Week, Maplewood honors its residents and their dedication to keep the spark alive.
Judith Sunderland, known to her friends as JJ, has been a resident of Maplewood Senior Living since December of 2017. Always quiet and introspective, JJ has relied on art as a way to express her creativity and emotions. JJ releases her inner artist through a variety of mediums such as canvas, mosaics, sewing, and gardening. While living at Maplewood, JJ had the honor of presenting one of her paintings at the “Dinner Plate Party,” a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Family Support Center of Cape Cod. JJ continues to paint and create on a regular basis and shares her art with her friends at Maplewood.
Another resident, Dennis Sullivan, found his love of art a little later in life. Dennis began his painting career after he retired at the age of 72. While attending local community college classes on painting and the arts, Dennis realized his love of painting was more than just a hobby. While caring for his wife at their home, Dennis found it difficult to find the time or energy to paint. However, now that Dennis and his wife live at Maplewood, Dennis is free to do what he loves the most, make art. At Maplewood, you can see Dennis’ artwork displayed in the resident museum of art, hung proudly for all to enjoy.
Tips for Practice Art with Seniors
Traditionally, art therapy is taught by a certified art therapist. However, there are so many different ways to play with art at home, even if you aren’t certified in art therapy. Art is a great way to socialize and communicate with seniors while encouraging them to release their inner artist. Here are a few tips from the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver’s Center to keep in mind for your next art project.
- Use safe items that will reduce the risk of injury. When planning an art project, make sure to avoid sharp objects like knives and toxic materials.
- As you work on your art project, encourage conversation and discussion. Art helps us connect with our own feelings, but it’s also an opportunity to connect with others.
- Give clear and concise directions one at a time to avoid overwhelming your seniors.
- Allow plenty of time to complete the project, and make sure to reinforce the idea that the project is less about completing and more about enjoying the process.
- Don’t be afraid to offer encouragement and direction when needed. Art can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never tried an art project before. Words of encouragement can be very helpful!
Interested in Art Therapy?
Maplewood Senior living is dedicated to providing high-quality programs for our residents and their families. Art therapy is one way we encourage our residents to connect with each other and their caregivers. If you’d like to see what other programs we offer at our facilities, please reach out. One of our Community Relations Directors would love to show you around.