We all need to be “ourself,” whatever we determine that to be. Through the ages, arts and crafts have been considered ways to truly express our feelings — our inner self. For the dementia patient, expressing one’s self is particularly different and highly frustrating. For the “outsider,” the loved one’s “self” may not be the one they’re used to or can even understand or relate to. Arts and crafts may just be the key to the patient’s quality of life and the caregiver’s hope.
According to a heavy but thorough study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “The broad theme set out in this paper is that music, visual art, and dance — taken here as representative art forms, have potential benefits to offer people with dementia, which include cognitive, emotional and social outcomes. In keeping with the manifesto, the arts also foster dignity, autonomy, reciprocity, lack of stigma and social integration.” In other words, music, dance, painting, pottery, and other arts and crafts, are good for patients. Other “‘Studies have shown that purposeful hand use, meaningful engagement, and creative processes elevate mood,’ says Dr. Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist and co-author of The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness With Your Own Two Hands. When we’re deeply absorbed in a creative hobby, ‘time falls away and the mind becomes focused.’”
The arts may be used to entertain or to distract, as well as to comfort, stimulate, soothe, or affirm the identity of a person with dementia. If possible, a visit to an art gallery or glass-blowing exhibition, or an impromptu waltz in the park (Go ahead; who cares if someone’s looking?) could engage your loved one and lighten his or her mood. Exercising to music, even when chairbound, may not win any dance marathons, but it could transport the patient to happier times (Look what it did for Richard Simmons!).
Who doesn’t like playing with clay? If your loved one is capable, a shot at pottery could be a good shot in the arm. And no giggling — Remember the ashtray you made in kindergarten?
The study referenced above gives five good reasons to support the arts with people with dementia:
- People with dementia usually enjoy participating in art, whether actively creating art or as an appreciative audience.
- The arts can remain accessible despite memory loss because of their multi-sensory nature and the possibility of experiencing art in the moment irrespective of prior knowledge or associations.
- Carers — both professional and family supporters — get double benefit from arts interventions: their own enjoyment as participants, and that of seeing their charges enlivened or soothed.
- The wider community benefits from the fostering of cultural capital in any segment of society, including older people with dementia.
- Art does little harm; indeed, it often fosters social interaction and a sense of belonging.
Remember, art is about self-expression. Whatever the patient’s self is, encourage him or her to express it. And join in yourself; get out there and boogie!