By Bernie Cavis, hospital VP of Programs at Commonwealth Assisted Living
Henry wasn’t much for talking. His family described him as a quiet man, medicine and as his
dementia progressed, he spoke even less. The one thing Henry was vocal about was fishing. He could name every type of fish found in every lake in the state. Yet now,
even the mention of fishing to Henry did not draw him into conversation as it had in
the past. Until he picked up a paint brush. As the activity director spoke to her group of residents about summer memories, Henry began to paint. When he was finished, he had produced a work of art which communicated volumes to those who knew him. His finished canvas displayed a lake filled to the brim with fish. Even when the words didn’t come to him, the memory did, and he was able to speak to everyone around him through art.
Henry is not alone. Studies have shown that art therapy may reduce depression and anxiety symptomatic of chronic diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, neurological research shows that participating in creative activities, such as painting, can improve cognitive function, strengthen neural pathways, as well as facilitate the development of new pathways and brain cells.
Expanding a resident’s horizons through theater, music, dance, literature and fine art appreciation not only triggers the neural “memory” pathways, the experience brings staff and residents together as a community. Residents are able to discuss and share their life experiences through art, while giving them an opportunity to learn something new and, quite possibly, spark a new passion. The combination of social interaction and creative outlet is priceless. Creative art
also provides a tool to caregivers.
“We observe their painting over time,” explains Paula Harder, Regional Director of Resident Programs. “The colors they choose may reveal to caregivers how the resident is feeling in that moment. The level of detail provided may indicate what type of a day someone is having. Are the colors getting darker? Perhaps we should watch them for depression. Some of our memory care residents have lost their ability to speak. Yet, they may still be able to communicate
with us, through art.”
About Commonwealth Assisted Living
Commonwealth Assisted Living is a Charlottesville-based company which operates 21 senior living communities throughout Virginia. Eighteen of our communities also offer the Sweet Memories program for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or needing dementia care. Commonwealth’s longterm goals include smart growth through acquisition, custom renovations and strategic hiring and retention of top talent. For more information on Commonwealth Assisted Living visit www.CommonwealthAL.com