The Benefits of Art in Alzheimer’s Disease
11/2/2017 4:11:23 PM
Alzheimer's


Over five million people in the U.S. suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease. It is a devastating illness that robs victims of their memories and ability to communicate. Art and music have been proven effective ways to help people communicate and express themselves, particularly individuals who can’t communicate well verbally. Some research has even suggested it slows the development of Alzheimer’s and helps patients remember and recall information easier. Consequently, senior care facilities often use music or art therapy to help people deal with their illness.

The science behind art and music

Visual stimulation and musical sounds stimulate specific parts of the brain that create different pathways. When a person hears a familiar song or recognizes a piece of art, the same pathways are used. Interestingly, in people who develop Alzheimer’s disease, these pathways are not affected, as is their memory and ability to verbally communicate. They remember favorite songs and maintain the ability to appreciate art because of these unique pathways, often associated with fond memories.

Art and music can put people at ease

Depending on the stage of disease, Alzheimer’s patients can easily become agitated and frustrated. This could be due to their struggles with communication and memory loss. Music and art, whether observing or creating it, can calm people and uplift their mood.

Clare Bridge at Brookdale Senior Living Solutions in Lake Charles is a memory care unit dedicated to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. According to Ashley Shows, Activities Director at Clare Bridge, the residents there have an hourly schedule called a "Daily Path,” which incorporates art and music into each day. Creative Craft Time might involve painting or other art work. Some days they garden or bake. To engage the male residents, they offer Life Stations, which include wood working and pipe fitting. The purpose is to keep their minds active and engaged.

Brookdale brings in musicians three or four times a month to entertain the residents, but on the Daily Path schedule, 4:00 p.m. is dedicated to music. They have sing-a-longs and karaoke, line dancing, or they play musical instruments. Shows says when they hear music, specifically songs they recognize and enjoy, the residents "come alive.”

"When we play a song from their generation, even if they can’t verbalize, we can see the recognition and joy on their faces,” Shows adds.

If you have a loved one dealing with Alzheimer’s, try some art or music therapy with them. You may be surprised by the results! Here are some tips to get started:

For music therapy:
  • Give the person the independence to choose their own music, if possible. Everyone has different tastes. Otherwise, play music from different genres and watch their reactions and facial expressions. Try playing music from their youth. They’ll possibly smile, clap their hands, tap their toes, or sing along. Encourage these behaviors by demonstrating. 
  • Let music set a particular mood. If you want to create a happy, upbeat environment, play fun and engaging music. If you want to create a relaxing environment, play calm, soothing sounds. Music can also often spark memories a patient had long forgotten.
  • Avoid radio or internet stations that interrupt with commercials. This can be confusing to patients with dementia. Also eliminate other distractions, such as a television or outside noises. Play the music at a reasonable volume, not too loud.
  • Even if a patient is unable to interact in any way, music can still be beneficial. Melodies and lyrics can engage the mind, even in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.

For art therapy:
  • Art offers patients an outlet for self-expression and can provide a sense of purpose. Offer assistance only if/when necessary. For example, guide a person’s hand to color with a crayon, but don’t direct them. 
  • Talk to your loved one while he/she paints or draws to encourage socialization.
  • Allow the patient to create at his/her own pace. 
  • Avoid projects that are too childlike.
  • Use safe, non-toxic materials.
Posted by: Angie Kay Dilmore | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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