How Creative Therapies for Alzheimer's Improve Prognosis
Shift Focus to the Positive
Alzheimer’s is a limiting illness, so it’s easy to fixate on “lost” abilities and freedoms. But while it’s important to respect limitations, Alzheimer's caregivers can get stuck in a cycle of negativity, looking out for challenges without searching for natural solutions.
Expressive therapies are a win-win for both parties. Artistic expression brings more function and control to the Alzheimer’s patient: when there’s no pressure to describe or explain in words they can no longer find, patients will relax and become more receptive to the conversation and advice of others.
Finding the Right Creative Therapy
There’s no single right route to creative healing: art, music, dance (or movement) and drama are all possibilities. Some experts suggest that combining one or more will bring the most benefit, but some are more appropriate than others depending on the stage of Alzheimer’s, and of course, individual personality.
Returning to Personal Outlets
Many people have gravitated toward a certain mode of artistic expression at one point in life. For people in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, returning to that favored expression can be the most effective step to healthy release and better communication.
If you can, investigate the types of creative pursuits your loved one enjoyed earlier in their life. It might be worth trying a range of mediums at the outset to see which draws the most interest and attention.
Keep in mind that drawing and painting can be therapeutic, but since they also require a good deal of maneuverability, cognition and motor skills, they might not be the best outlets for advanced Alzheimer’s cases.
Advantages of Movement and Music
When someone has lost the ability to make sense of imagery, visual art might be out of the question, but music and dance are still viable options.
Dance or movement can be a powerful emotional release, and a visual way of representing feelings or attitudes. It also taps into muscle memory, which can evoke happy, active times. The physical activity is a nice bonus.
Music may be even more useful as a creative therapy: rhythm and tones are felt deeply and can bring all sorts of thoughts, memories and emotions to the surface without much effort at all on the listener’s part. Playing simple tunes could help, too, whether it’s drumming a beat with the feet or singing.
Simplify the Connection
A professional movement therapy or music program is a great step, but it’s not the only way to make use of creative expression for Alzheimer’s therapy. If you’re a caregiver or family member, tapping into your own creativity — even just a little spark — can be enough to connect and inspire.
If you’re not sure where to start, why not take a class yourself? Connect with an art therapist or a counselor who’s skilled in expressive therapy to learn a few new skills. You can start by contacting your local chapter of the Alzheimer’ Association for info on available art therapy resources.
Finding a creative outlet can also help you care for yourself while you care for your loved one. It offers the chance to explore your own issues that may have been pushed away to make room for the challenge at hand. Whether or not you find an artistic passion, one thing is for sure: it will never hurt to try.