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Art Therapy Q & A
The Importance of Using Art Therapy with Adults with Dementia

By Diane Alvy, M.A., ATR-BC

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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 cognitive impairments?

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 their caregivers.

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 Districts. 


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