Catherine M Harris, MA, ATR-BC
Art Therapy Services

Artwork by Catherine Harris

Catherine Harris, Art Therapist

"While the memory (may be) failing, the capacity for imagination does not fade. Activities like art that stimulate the imagination can release emotional memories, as those are often stored visually." - Dr. Gene Cohen

Benefits of Art Therapy with Alzheimer’s Disease


Reminiscence
Emotional Expression
Increased Self-Esteem
Socialization



Reminiscence

One of the most important benefits of the practice of art therapy with individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s is its aid in reminiscing or gaining access to the memories that can be recalled. In addition to deteriorating memory, the latter stages of Alzheimer's destroy a person's ability to effectively communicate. With the loss of neural tissue in the parietal and temporal lobes of the brain, verbal functions of language and expression are no longer what they used to be. As a result, individuals loose the ability to recall memory through verbal means. However, memories are recorded in many different ways, many of which are not verbal. Since accessing memories through verbal pathways in the brain is no longer possible, other modalities are needed. Art therapy thus provides a nonverbal pathway for individuals to access past feelings and experiences. As Dr. Gene Cohen, the director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at the GW Med Center, states, "While the memory [may be] failing, the capacity for imagination does not fade. Activities like art that stimulate the imagination can release emotional memories, as those memories are often stored visually."


Emotional Expression

In addition to encouraging seniors to reminisce, art therapy also provides an outlet for emotional expression for participants. In many cases, verbal expression can be difficult, even for those who are not suffering from a degenerative disease. Imagine then the hardships people with Alzheimer’s face, especially those in the early stages who are consciously aware of the decline happening inside. Creative acts like making art offer an alternative means for expressing these feelings of confusion, fear, and loss.


Increased Self-Esteem

Another objective includes building participant self-esteem. One should never underestimate the abilities of older adults. Even in our later stages of life, we are capable of attaining new skills. Learning new artistic techniques and producing completed works of art is extremely empowering. With the ability to acquire new skills and create finished products comes an increase in self-esteem, an extremely important and invaluable gift at this age when individuals feel their abilities are declining.


Socialization

Finally, art therapy can offer socialization and support for participants when provided in a group setting. Group work in art therapy can be especially powerful when working with older adults. Creating art with other people gives individuals a chance not only to socialize but the opportunity to relay shared experiences and learn they are not alone in their struggles with aging and Alzheimer’s. This kind of group process also provides a safe environment to discuss difficult issues like these. In addition, the art itself often acts as a conversation starter, a non-threatening topic to get the ball rolling on discussion.

For more information on art therapy services or to schedule a free trial session, please contact Catherine by email at: catherine@catherinemharris.com.

Catherine M Harris, MA, ATR-BC
Art Therapy Services
Nashville, TN
www.catherinemharris.com