Dementia and Creativity- 5 tips to ensure more creativity

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Dementia and Creativity- 5 tips to ensure more creativity

Posted on March 26, 2012

Being engaged in different aspects of art, such as singing or story telling, can assist people with dementia or Alzheimer’s in expressing themselves creatively. Many times a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s will find the ability to access emotions or deep thought through arts that would not be able to be expressed otherwise. Singing or performing a song for instance could have the potential to tap into long term, or short term, memories just as seeing a familiar photograph may do for you.

One witness to this creative concept is Carrie McGee. McGee is the community and access programs coordinator for MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City. McGee and MoMA have a special program underway that works with Alzheimer’s patients and brings them together with the museum’s contemporary arts program. McGee stated that when beginning the research on Alzheimer’s and dementia, there were numerous talks about negative symptoms and behaviors that could often be expressed by the individuals who suffered. However, through the process she realized that engaging them intellectually and emotionally through the art work, produced a receptive mood and allowed for a positive interaction to where they began to mirror some of the emotions and expressions back to her.

Another witness to the positive effects of art and dementia is one of the leading experts on dementia and creativity, Dr. Bruce Miller, Director of The Memory and Aging Center at UCSF (University of California, San Francisco). Dr. Miller has had many experiences working with artists who suffer from neurodegenerative disease and other forms of dementia. Through their artwork he has been able to track the development of the disease and the effects it has on creative expression, noting that some types of dementia enhance creative output.

As healthcare professionals it is important to know that expression through art can assist in improving the quality of life for those who suffer from forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s, by helping them to share some of the gifts of their imagination. Allowing them to use their creativity will also give caretakers a chance to enhance their quality of life by finding areas of strengths within their patients’ minds. Creative expression can also promote a sense of confidence and relief by enabling patients to access deep emotions of memories or possibly guiding them in the direction to do so.

So next time you think that coloring or story telling with those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia is pointless, remember that “The world is but a canvas to the imagination.”  — Henry David Thoreau

Try some of these tips to enhance creativity within the minds of Alzheimer’s and Dementia sufferers:

  1. Ask probing open ended questions when viewing artwork or while painting such as “What are the people in this picture doing?”
  2. Create a “No wrong answer” atmosphere; meaning that any creative input or thoughts are good ones.
  3. When painting or drawing try playing light music in the background that may trigger a memory or an emotion and encourage more creativity from within.
  4. Watch for nonverbal expressions. People with dementia may not have the right words but emotions can come through gestures and behaviors. So validate their feelings.
  5. Most importantly, focus on what the person can do rather than focusing on some of the abilities that have been lost through progression of the disease.