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Creative Ways to Help You and Loved Ones with Memory Loss


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Welcome back, I am so happy you could join me this month for some more interesting information on how art and creativity help us live better more fulfilling lives!  Taking into consideration some of your comments on a previous blog, I have decided to share some more information on programs and research showing a positive correlation between creativity and memory issues. There has been a lot of research on the power of the arts and aging and a large focus on how art therapies and art programs help populations with cognitive loss (i.e. Alzheimer, Dementia). Research “Creativity is our species’ natural response to the challenges of human experience.” (Adriana Diaz) Research in neuroscience over the past decades has increased our understanding of human brain functions particularly emotion, perception and behavior.  Various studies of people with dementia show degeneration of certain areas of the brain releasing previously dormant cognitive abilities in other areas of the brain with amazing results.  In a study by the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, people who were not creative before, produced great works of art, visual and musical after becoming ill with dementia.  The study results suggest that visual expressions of creativity (i.e. drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.) appear as the person loses their capability for verbal language.  Moreover, the ability to communicate through the arts brings a sense of comfort to the individual and those who are close to them as it can be enjoyed and shared. The American Art Therapy Association studies also show that communication and expression are a basic human need.  When a person loses the ability to communicate, the person is at greater risk for becoming socially isolated or lonely.  This often leads to depression, further medical problems, and more reliance on the healthcare system.  Creating art is like an alternate language and can be a powerful way to support the abilities and qualities an older person does have including life experience, wisdom and enhanced ability to solve problems.  Therefore, it can have a significant impact on reducing isolation and loneliness; promote wellbeing thereby reducing an older person’s reliance on healthcare. Furthermore, showing the importance of creativity on dementia, a new study that began mid-February 2016, at the University of Kentucky School of Fine Arts and Visual Studies (funded by the U.S. Alzheimer’s Disease Centers) is exploring the effects of visual arts activities on quality of life for people with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers.  It’s an eight-week program where individuals will participate in different types of visual arts activities, such as painting, sculpture or watching slideshow movies.  According to one of the researcher’s, Allan Richards, the study focuses on “providing mentally stimulating and enriching activities in the visual arts for the elderly with dementia in order to engage cognitive processes, emotions, and motor skills, perhaps slowing cognitive decline and improving quality of life.”  Keep an eye out for the results. Also, studies have shown how music can be a very powerful therapeutic tool increasing cognitive functions in Alzheimer’s patients.  Such studies have shown music may reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues common to this disease.  Even someone in the late stages of Alzheimer’s may be able to tap a beat or sing lyrics to a song from childhood.  Music aids in the ability to connect with people, even after verbal communication has become difficult. In one pilot program, 45 patients with mid- to late-stage dementia had one hour of personalized music therapy, three times a week, for 10 months, which improved their scores on a cognitive-function test by 50 percent on average. One patient in the study recognized his wife for the first time in months.  Another music therapy study showed that stroke victims can learn to walk and use their hands again. Music therapy is also for caregivers who encounter increased stress when caring for a loved one. Studies show listening to music can lead to increased levels of melatonin, a hormone associated with mood regulation, lower aggression, reduce depression and enhance sleep.  Using music to help caregivers cope with these problems can be a welcome relief to burnout. Programs Programs involving creativity and the arts are being implemented to help older adults with memory problems.  A successful eight-week clay program in Minnesota at Oak Meadows memory care unit has been showing great results for their residents with dementia.  Claire O’Connor from Northern Clay Center who teaches the class says, “what is most exciting is seeing the students ability to remember the skill they have learned even if they don’t remember the actual event of creating.”  It gives the residents a solid sense of accomplishment when they complete a project and increases confidence.  Also, as a group activity, it increases socialization helping decrease depression. Another program inspired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York called the “Azure programme” takes a different approach.  It involves making art galleries “dementia-friendly” to aid in breaking down the social isolation associated with these types of illnesses.  The program encourages engagement with art aided by facilitators.  The premise surrounding the program is increasing socialization by providing an opportunity to socialize and re-connect with loved ones by discussing art.  You don’t need your memory to look at and discuss art.  Discussing art helps people feel their opinions are still valid and helps them understand themselves and other people.  It also allows them to experience just being in the “now”, not in the past.  The program found that those with dementia and their caregiviers reported greater self-confidence and elevated mood as a result of their exposure to art. Alzheimer’s Association Tips on Using Music and Art for Those Suffering from Dementia or Alzheimer  Music:
  • Identify music that’s familiar/enjoyable to the person. If possible, let the person choose the music.
  • Choose a source of music that isn’t interrupted by commercials, which can cause confusion. (Come join Arts Escape for one of our musical performances during the year.)
  • Use music to create the mood you want. For example, a tranquil piece of music can help create a calm environment, while a faster paced song from childhood may boost spirit and evoke happy memories.
  • Encourage movement (clapping, dancing) to add to the enjoyment.
  • Avoid sensory overload; eliminate competing noises by shutting windows and doors and by turning off the television. Make sure the volume of the music is not too loud.
  • Keep the project on an adult level. Avoid anything that might be demeaning or seem child-like.
  • Build conversation into the project. Provide encouragement; discuss what the person is creating or reminiscence.
  • Help the person begin the activity. If the person is painting, you may need to start the brush movement.  Most other projects should only require basic instruction and assistance.
  • Use safe materials. Avoid toxic substances and sharp tools.
As you can see, creativity and art seem to have positive benefits on those affected by a memory disorder. Even if you or a loved one doesn’t have a major memory loss, encompassing creativity in your lives could only benefit you now and in the future.  Come socialize and engage your brain by joining us at Arts Escape for one of our many courses and performance offerings throughout the year. ( Programs & Events ) I’d love to hear your feedback on this and future blogs including any suggestions on topics you’d like to see in the future!  Happy Creating!   Additional Reading and Resources:  Alders Pike, Amanda (2014).  Improving Memory Through Creativity  Katz, Lawrence & Rubin, Manning (March 25, 2014).  Keep Your Brain Alive:  83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness

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