Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Painting helps those with dementia


Obviously nobody paints or plays music 24/7. And it would be hard for a dementia caregiver to organize artsy activities all day long. But don't be too quick to think it's not for you. You don't have to be a sophisticated arts therapist or spend a lot of energy to reap the benefits:
  1. Arts participation gives someone with dementia a sense of accomplishment and pleasure; the resulting positive emotions reverberate throughout your day.
  2. Finding the right "spark" gives you a go-to activity to help change mood in a pinch, when your loved one is upset or bored.
  3. Going out to, say, a concert or a museum in early- to mid-stage disease gets you both out of the house.
"Alzheimer's doesn't take away memory; your memories are all in there. The part of the brain that's damaged is the part that gives you access to memory. It's as if you put the memories in the glove compartment and you lost the key – and the art unlocked it," says John Zeisel, a sociologist who founded Artz for Alzheimer's, a very cool organization that sets up guided museum tours for people with Alzheimer's, among other programs. Zeisel is also the author of last year's I'm Still Here: A Breakthrough Approach to Understanding Someone Living With Alzheimer's.
Some ideas to get you started:
  • Don't assume the arts have no effect if your loved one was never "artsy." Music and painting reach many people with dementia, even the unlikeliest.
  • Experiment. Some people take to dance, others like to pluck a zither or work in fingerpaint. Rent musicals to watch. Visit a museum every Friday afternoon – it can be the same place, looking at the same art, every week; it's the routine and in-the-moment experience that helps.
  • Keep it simple. My Dad, a lifelong photographer, could no longer operate even the simplest camera, but he never lost his enjoyment of polka music. Paint-by-numbers? Maybe not. Watercolor? Who knew your mom was an Impressionist?
  • It's art therapy, not art class. As you look at paintings or art books, resist the urge to quiz about artists or famous works. Just talk about the colors, shapes, and emotions: "Do you like it? How about this one?"

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