If you’ve spent time with someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, you know from experience that communication can be a challenge. Long term memories go hazy, words aren’t always on the tip of the tongue, and you might be getting used to a shift in roles, such as child to caretaker. But with creative expression, you can ease some of the communication frustrations that come with the types of dementia. Creative expression is as simple as drawing images while listening to music, storytelling, dancing, and many more! Artistic expressions can have a major impact, not only on quality time spent with loved ones, but on their overall mood and communication skills.
Studies have shown that giving seniors the opportunity to express themselves in this way can have a major benefit for their cognitive function, mental health, and quality of life. After all, just because they don’t discuss the same subjects and memories they used to doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say. Creative expression is a great opportunity to tap into feelings, observations, humor, and knowledge. The healing powers of art and other forms of creative expression, can likewise enhance memory and the ability to reminisce.
Those who have facilitated storytelling workshops and other narrative activities for seniors have noted that even those who are usually quiet and reluctant to speak become more engaged after participating in creative projects. In groups, memory care patients find new ways to relate and relay information. All that matters is that the seniors are invited to share in a positive environment. These exercises have been clinically shown to not only benefits patients, but caregivers, too. By focusing on what empowers and delights seniors, in return friends, family, and professionals have a more rounded view of those with dementia and Alzheimer’s and their capabilities.
One 2009 study revealed that the creative storytelling method can foster meaningful engagement between patients with dementia and their caregivers by encouraging seniors to rediscover their imaginations. In other words, by focusing on what memory care residents are good at and what they enjoy, the focus is put on the individual, rather than their condition.
The activity itself is pretty simple. Take photos of humans, animals, or even illustrations and ask residents what they think. Show another image, and ask how that impacts the narrative. For example, you could show a man on a plane, followed by an image of the same man on the beach. What do participants think he is doing? Is he on vacation? A scientist? A father in search of his long lost children? The possibilities are endless, as is the fun you might have when discussing them with the assisted living resident in your life.
Written by: Meghan O’Dea