Art Therapy for Seniors with Dementia

Posted by Enlivant support center on July 25, 2017

Art projects are a fun, relaxing way to help senior parents express their creativity, but they’re particularly valuable for seniors with dementia. Art therapy can create a sense of accomplishment and purpose for elderly artists, while also providing them an opportunity to express themselves in a nonverbal  way. Most importantly, art therapy for dementia is a powerful tool as it stimulates the brain, stirring dormant memories and sometimes bringing language back to struggling seniors. Studies have shown that art therapy activities even helped boost cognitive function in various areas of the brain

Here are some simple steps to begin art therapy for senior loved ones.

1. Warm up with simple exercises.

Before your loved one starts painting, it’s good idea to do a short warm up to get them ready. Take their hands and swing them side to side, asking them to sing along with a simple song like, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” This exercise will help stimulate word memory. Next, ask the senior to high five you with each hand, playing patty cake. Hold up a few fingers and ask your loved one how many fingers they count.

2. Reminisce with pictures.

Next, show your senior a combination of photos and paintings, and ask the elder to describe them. Show different images and ask if they bring up any memories. This will help stir memories and practice verbal skills.

3. Start painting.

Finally, get out your art supplies and encourage your senior loved one to start painting, lightly guiding or supporting their hand as needed. Let them paint what they want, whether it’s abstract strokes or a simple setting. Hold a conversation throughout the activity, providing encouragement, discussing what the senior is creating and reminiscing on memories that may be triggered.

Tips for Successful Art Therapy

  • Keep the project on an adult level. Don’t make it too challenging, but avoid something child-like that might be demeaning.
  • Help your loved one begin the activity, by starting the brush movement if necessary. Art projects should only require basic instruction and assistance. 
  • Use safe paints and materials; avoid toxic substances and sharp tools.
  • Allow the senior plenty of time, remembering they don’t have to finish the project in one sitting. 

The benefits of art therapy for your senior parent with dementia can be immediately rewarding. Many seniors show both cognitive and behavioral improvement after art therapy because the activity makes them feel happy and confident. Another benefit is that it stimulates different muscles and connections through movement. Engaging in a familiar activity such as painting is a great form of art therapy for seniors with dementia. Finally, seniors will feel mentally stimulated after painting.

Adults who suffer from Alzheimer's/dementia have additional needs. Their memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, depression, personality changes and challenges with balance and coordination all present specialized challenges that require development of activities that can help them, such as art therapy.

Although adult art therapy won’t cure dementia, it can help stimulate seniors’ brains in new and exciting ways. While provoking latent memories is a great bonus, the creativity and happiness that art alone brings your loved one can make all the difference in their life, especially if they’ve been in decline.

Learn more about Enlivant's Memory Care philosophy. You can also find a location near you.