Blog 393 - Using Art Through Dementia

Being diagnosed with dementia can be scary. After all, people with advanced dementia can’t tell us what they’re thinking or feeling, and uncertainty breeds fear. The truth is that dementia care has come a long way. People with dementia are living longer, more meaningful lives. A dementia journey does not have to be one of hopelessness and fear. Instead, consider using this time to think about what you want out of your future and the type of support you hope to have as your cognition changes. Art therapy relieves stress, and may even help with the symptoms of dementia. It can also help people with dementia express themselves when their vocabularies begin to fail them. 

Here’s how you can use art on your dementia journey. 

Early Dementia: Working Through Your Emotions

Dementia is a terminal illness. Like any other terminal illness, it can trigger a range of emotions — from a desire to use your remaining time wisely to anger over the unfairness of it all. Art offers an exceptional outlet for your feelings. You don’t have to be a skilled artist. Instead, try some of the following: 

  • Consider using art journaling to express your emotions and follow your dementia journey. 
  • Join a local art class and learn to make pottery or jewelry, or paint. These works of art can become treasured family heirlooms that remind your family of your determination to learn new things even in the face of fear and uncertainty. 
  • Find a therapist who specializes in art therapy. Therapy can help you process your emotions and plan for the future, and the right type of art expresses visually what you may be unable to express verbally. 

Moderate Dementia: Engaging the Mind 

As your dementia progresses, you may notice more difficulty with daily tasks, short-term memory and organizing your thoughts. Art can relieve some of the stress associated with these challenging symptoms and doesn’t require any special skills. Try the following: 

  • Adult coloring can offer hours of entertainment. Start with simple coloring books and pencils, then consider broadening your horizons to more detailed projects. 
  • Arranging plants is its own type of artistry. Nurturing living things can give you a sense of purpose and meaning even when life feels out of control. Try making succulent arrangements or filling outdoor pots with flowers. 
  • Repetitive tasks may help ease some of the anxiety dementia causes. Many people with dementia already engage in repetitive motions. Try stringing beads to ease stress and make something beautiful. 

Late Dementia: New Modes of Expression 

In late-stage dementia, you may have trouble with basic tasks, struggle to recognize loved ones, and need daily help and support. This can be frightening, but planning for this eventuality now can restore a sense of control. Consider it an investment in your future self. Talk to loved ones about the role you would like art to play in your life. Do you hope to paint or color? Do you want to work with clay? What about Play-Doh kits? At this stage, many of the same activities that appeal to young children may feel enriching to you. 

One of the best things you can do is research senior living communities that offer art therapy. If you know you’ll be living somewhere that provides dementia-friendly art and other activities, you may feel significantly less fearful about what the future holds. To learn more about planning for your future and see how other seniors are navigating their dementia journey, download our free guide, Living Well with Dementia.

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