Why Creative Therapies for Alzheimer’s Should Be in Every Treatment Plan
As Alzheimer’s disease chips away at cognitive function, it takes away a person’s past and future. Unable to recall words or think about what’s to come, their world shrinks and they become isolated.
A lot of therapy for Alzheimer’s centers on strengthening cognitive ability, or assessing how quickly it’s declining. But by asking someone to remember a specific fact, or summon a certain memory, you may be setting them up to fail — and reminding them of everything they no longer know.
Many experts point out that creative or expressive therapies like art, music and dance help patients live in the present and tap into the abilities they have retained. Even if art can’t reverse the damage of Alzheimer’s, it can lead to better communication, more confidence, and ultimately, a better quality of life.
Artistic Appreciation and the Alzheimer’s Brain
As Alzheimer’s progresses, different areas of the brain begin to physically deteriorate. Memory is often the first to go, and eventually language and general cognition fails.
However, experts note that a “primal response” to creative communication — visual art, music or dance, for example — can remain after the other thought mechanisms have faltered.
Sensation Over Understanding
You could argue that art demands a close eye and thoughtful mind to be truly appreciated, but that might not be accurate. In fact, at its basic level, art seems to rely more on the senses than intellectual judgment — this is why so many people with dementia can access modes of expression quite easily, even if they can’t explain why.
When memories are lost because of amnesia, dementia or another brain trauma, they may seem like they’re gone for good. However, art has been known to bridge the gap between current cognitive function and long-lost memories.
For instance, just as a specific scent can trigger a vivid recollection, music can inexplicably tap into deep emotions and memories.
How Creative Therapies for Alzheimer’s Improve Prognosis
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, and although some treatment techniques may be able to slow the progress, there is no known way to stop it completely. However, art and music seem to draw from different areas of the brain, re-routing communication pathways to bypass the areas that no longer function very well.
Aside from the sheer joy of an artistic endeavor and the satisfaction that comes with the completed piece, Alzheimer’s patients can enjoy other benefits, like:
A Nonverbal Connection
Everybody communicates non-verbally, but those nuances and gestures tend to take a back seat to verbal communication. In advanced cases of Alzheimer’s disease, when language is no longer a useful tool, expressive or creative therapies can encourage a non-verbal connection and serve as a crucial means of communication.
Two major goals of art therapy in advanced dementias are connection to others and increased sensory awareness. They may not be able to improve cognition or retrieve a range of memories, but through artistic expression patients can begin to connect and cooperate with their caregivers more than before. This is good for everyone involved.
Next page: finding the right creative therapy for Alzheimer’s.