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Tips for Art At Home (Art As Therapy)

“The power of image making is that it allows those living with dementia to express themselves in ways that are satisfying and communicate with others. The made image does not disappear and can be rediscovered.”



Art1Everyone is creative. Some people enjoy cooking, others planting gardens, choosing clothes, arranging rooms, singing or playing music. Others express their creativity with paints, in poetry or prose. Artistic expression should be a part of living positively with dementia.

Here are a few tips on how to create art at home with the person you care for.

Prepare the space - In advance, find a table at a comfortable height and prepare the space which will be immediately in front of the person. Set out paper (everyday ‘letter’ (or A4 in Australia) size printer paper is a good size; colored paper is fun), art materials (oil pastels, a box of water colors, markers, etc) and a pen and pencil. Leave the choice open as to whether the person may wish to paint, draw or write.

Start from something not nothing - Provide objects such as shells, flowers, seeds or autumn leaves. Photos and picture books may also inspire. Place items of beauty within reach of the person with dementia. If need be, pick up an object yourself and hand it to the person telling them what it is: “This a beautiful shell. It’s got a lovely pattern on it.”

Help make the first marks - Be ready, if necessary, to help make the first marks on the paper. Keep your marks simple. If the person has been an artist, start with a small mark or shape. Otherwise draw a circle or another shape. Hand over the brush or oil pastel and let them make marks. Occasionally you may be asked to draw, say, a tree. Start the image so it is recognizable and again hand over the pastel.

Take dictation - If your friend or relative wants to express themselves by talking about a topic, take dictation. Read out what you have written. You are helping their brain recall how to write. Hand the pen over after a few sentences.

Duets can be fun - Start by making an image of a happy time you spent together. Hand the oil pastel or pencil over to your friend or relative and encourage them to draw something that they remember.

Treat whatever is produced with respect - Artwork is an expression of your friend or relative’s creative being. Ask them to sign it. Mount it on coloured paper or laminate it. Photocopy the image and turn it into a card to send to other family members. Or perhaps frame it and give it to a grandchild.

Do not voice criticism - All marks should be welcomed. If you do not understand the image, admire the colours or the patterns. If words are misspelled do not correct them. Try and imagine what the word might be. Do not correct memories you remember differently. Treat stories as works of the imagination. Read texts aloud.



How Caregivers Can Be Creative

A person providing care, day in and day out needs ways to nurture him or herself. Creative activities are one such way. It is hard helping someone else to be creative, if you have no opportunity to be creative yourself. It may be artwork, photography, needlework or writing even a computer blog.

Set up a space for yourself - When you have short breaks during the day, set up a space with the materials laid out. Have a pen, notebook and oil pastels or paints ready and some quality paper. Choose somewhere comfortable.

Catch creative minutes - Don’t wait for a creative moment – any moment can be creative. Trust your hand and your imagination. Start at once and work for the minutes you have. Leave your creative work out so that you can come back to it.

A daily ritual - Make art a daily activity like cleaning your teeth.

Give yourself small treats - Treat yourself to new materials – a pen that writes smoothly or oil pastels in new colors. Small gifts are a way of respecting yourself.

Respect your creative work - No creative act is wasted. Never tear up your work. Use it in later works – collage ‘failed’ images or add phrases to later pieces of writing.

Pastel by Mort Denwer who lives with vascular dementia