Art Therapy for Older Adults

Art Therapy is one avenue to try to give your loved one some enjoyment.

Participating in art therapy gives people of every age many benefits. They’re able to become more self-aware, improve their social skills, decrease anxiety and boost their self-esteem.  Utilizing art to can enable nonverbal and minimally verbal seniors to communicate.  Most importantly, art projects can create a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Art can provide the person with dementia — as well as caregivers — an opportunity for self-expression and enjoyment. To clarify, art is fun and easy therefore you should give it a try!

Planning an art activity for someone with middle- to late-stage Alzheimer’s, it is helpful to keep these tips in mind:

  • Keeping the project on an adult level. Avoid anything that might be demeaning or seem childlike.
  • Building conversation into the project. Provide encouragement, discuss what the person is creating or reminiscence.
  • Helping the person begin the activity. If the person is painting, you may need to start the brush movement. Mostly, projects should only require basic instruction and assistance.
  • Use safe materials; avoiding toxic substances and sharp tools.
  • Allowing plenty of time, keeping in mind that the person doesn’t have to finish the project in one sitting.
Project Ideas

Many people living with dementia have trouble getting started. In my Mom’s case her visual processing isn’t good and has a hard time determining inside and outside of lines. Additionally, she’s always afraid she’ll “do it wrong”. This is an avoidance statement so I had Erin give us some project suggestions for people in the later stages of the disease.

Tracing their hand, or tracing your hand and theirs touching is sweet. Adding lines, color or whatever you’d like can come next.  Leaf rubbings was another suggestion so I tried it with Mom. It was hard to see the leaves consequently I think the project was a bit difficult.  It might be easier now that we’re farther into the year. There weren’t a lot of leaves the day we went walking in the park. I’ll try again, however, I think Mom may be past creating art.  Keeping an “art journal” with pretty pieces of nature is a simple enough. It allows you to connect with nature & can house memories to look back on in the winter months. This is something I’m planning on doing with Mom since she’s not very comfortable actually creating art.

Building things out of boxes is a suggestion she had for men who aren’t into crafting. Keeping in mind that it’s the pleasure that’s important, don’t dismiss any art as too “girlie”. Letting each person decide for themselves is equally important.

In short, if you’re looking to help your person engage in joyful experiences, simple art projects might be just thing.

Erin Partridge & The Elder Care Alliance

Connecting Through Art Episode