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Benefits of Creative Expression for Older Adults

 

By Lais Alexander, BS, gestalt-therapist, FAM Therapist/Roboticist

“I can’t paint.”

“My drawings look like a kindergarten project.”

“I am not good at art.”

 

Have you ever said those words? I have, many times. Why do we think that art is so hard to accomplish? Maybe art is, “just not for me,” and definitely, “not for my loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s.” Let’s take a closer look at some myths regarding art and the benefits to everyone, especially the elderly living in residential care. 

Aging still carries a lot of stigma in our Western society and that is one reason becoming older can be so frightening. The reflections about finitude are raised more often; impairments more defined and drastically change the way people are used to performing. The elderly are perceived as a burden for our productive, capitalist culture, and connections with family and friends may be lost. If the older adult has dementia, another level of complexity is added to all of those current issues.

Facing these transitions is not easy for caregivers, families, and the individuals themselves. Nowadays, there is an array of treatment possibilities, but one way of enhancing people’s lives is by taking a creative approach.2 Creativity is part of human nature. We use our context, our previous experiences, and our intentionality3 to develop new ways of doing something as simple as opening a jar or to try a new route back home. Our brains are wired to explore. We probably agree that babies learn fast and are curious by nature. Although our brain plasticity and our mobility decrease when we age, the connections are still there to be made and strengthened. Speaking of the brain, as we become older, many executive functions (memory, attention, emotional regulation, and problem-solving) start to lose power. However, art engages a different part of the brain and can sometimes access areas that social demands and language are not able to reach. Art can portray memories from life before dementia.1

Then, you may ask again: I never learned how to play an instrument when I was young–how can I do it now? Isn’t it too late? Creative Expression is more than a set of rules. It is a way of using any type of art (music, dance, painting, stories, video, or sculpture) to express what we are feeling and thinking without the need for verbal language. Researchers have shown that “artistic engagement may help to ease common behavioral symptoms of dementia like anxiety, agitation, and depression.”4 It helps regulate self-esteem and possibly stimulate memory. Caregivers may gain some relief and hope by seeing positive changes. Memory and learning deficits appearing in people with Alzheimer’s Disease are not impediments to making art, especially in the early to moderate stage of the illness.4 People might lose language, but it is never too late to gain creativity!1 

Join us again next week as we provide tips to guide you toward successful creative practices with the elderly in your life.


References

1. Sackett, V. (2018, June 25). Art Therapy Helps Dementia Patients Express  Themselves. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/dementia/info-2018/dementia-alzheimers-art-therapy-new.html 

2. Ford, C. (2012). Enriching life with creative expression. Working with Older People,  16(3), 111-116. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy-iup.klnpa.org/10.1108/13663661211260880

3. Sáenz, M. C. L. (2015). La expresión creadora del sentido de la experiencia  */Creative expression of the sense of experience. Co-Herencia, 12(23), 43-70. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy-iup.klnpa.org/10.17230/co-herencia.12.23.2

4. Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (2017, December 22). How art  can aid people with alzheimer’s. Retrieved from https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/prevention/how-art-can-aid-people-with-alzheimers/