ARTICLES / General /Art
Therapy Q&A /
By Diane Alvy, M.A., ATR-BC
Q. My husband has lost all ability to
communicate. are there any activities i can do to
communicate with him?
A. Yes, I recommend engaging in
activities that involve eye contact. Eye to eye
contact is the most direct way to communicate to
your husband that he is not alone and he is cared
for. The eye ‘gaze’ goes back to the way infants
attach to their main caregivers, and the same is
true about the way adults attach to each other.
When I work in a group, I often use a beach ball
and roll it to three or four adults sitting at a
table. All the adults give and receive eye contact
with each other, and engage in physical activity
that requires coordination. I also will give the
person a stuffed animal or doll that has very wide
eyes and a pleasant smile to hold. Unless the adult
objects, the eye to eye contact has a calming
effect. As a caregiver, when you get tired, a doll
or stuffed animal can serve as a substitute.
Q. As an art therapist, what are your
common goals when working with people who have
A. Common goals are to
maintain collateral brain pathways and preserve what
is currently working. Basic brain pathways are set
through the individual’s senses (sight, smell,
touch, and hearing). The senses in general are set
down early in life, and stay intact as a person
ages. My job as an art therapist is to find which
sense is operable and use it to stimulate the brain.
Because individuals think in ‘images’ (visually),
showing images helps prompt language, builds rapport
and fosters social interactions with others.
Q. Do you ever use art to educate people
about their dementia?
A. Yes, I do. Adults that
are highly cognitive and recently diagnosed are very
interested in knowing about what vascular changes
are going on what can be done. I usually draw a
picture of the brain on a large piece of paper and
the changes taking place. I also make sure to write
out on the paper itself the importance of
maintaining brain health.
Q. What do you like about working at an
adult day care center?
A. I enjoy being with
older people in general. Our culture does not value,
nor represent elders the way they should. I enjoy
the center where I work because they provide art
therapy and support groups for these individuals and
Diane Alvy is a board certified registered art therapist with a
Master's in Psychology. She is a Marriage and Family
Therapy Intern at Opica Adult Day Care Center for
people with dementia. During the past three years,
she has used art therapy with adults with substance
abuse challenges, adults with HIV and AIDS, and with
children in the Los Angeles and Santa Monica School