Art for Elders

Art for elders provides a holistic approach for Alzheimer’s patients by promoting expression through art and other creative activities.

Read more about Art for Elders on the following pages:

What's Art Got To Do With It?

Art for EldersSince the beginning of time individuals, both young and old, have created and made art. Indigenous people have employed a variety of arts in healing. Currently research is being conducted to explore the value of using art with older adults for preventive measures and for therapeutic interventions as they age. As our population ages in large numbers and as many older adults and their families face debilitating illness in the form of dementias, racing for causes and cures is imperative, but so is the need to discover effective and efficient ways of caring for older individuals. And, not just caring for, but in addition providing for their quality of life.

Yellow Yellow Catch a FellowExamples of Therapeutic Art

“Yellow, Yellow, Catch a Fellow”

“Anne,” a 91-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia, created this exuberant acrylic painting. Her joy and sense of humor are apparent in this acrylic painting.

I dedicate my work with older adults to Anne who confirmed for me once again the importance of art and the creative process in contributing to the quality of life as we age.

Read Anne's full story »

Expressive ArtsExpressive Arts:
Aging, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s

A manual for artists, art educators, health professionals, and others who work with older adults.

Get more info and peek inside the book.

Benefits of Art for Elders

Some of the benefits of engaging in creative activities with older adults are:

  • Helps the patient to relax
  • Accesses and releases trapped emotions
  • Provides nonverbal forms of communication and expression
  • Gives the individual a sense of control
  • Reduces stress, fear, and anxiety
  • Aids conflict resolution
  • Creates balance and order
  • Serves as a stimulus to sort through life changes and losses
  • Assists in socialization
  • Promotes spontaneity
  • Encourages playfulness and a sense of humor
  • Restores and motivates muscle memory
  • Improves cognition
  • Activates the senses
  • Focuses attention
  • Evokes new opportunities for connecting and belonging
  • Reduces boredom
  • Leads to self-expression and self-discovery
  • Enhances morale
  • Improves physical health
  • Nurtures a sense of Self and renewed self-esteem
  • Enriches relationships
  • Confronts despair with integrity
  • Enables the leaving of a legacy
  • Taps into spirituality
  • Reduces dependence on medications

This list was composed and adapted from a variety of resources and readings as well as my professional experiences of working with older adults. It is by no means exhaustive.

Art as Vital Treatment

“When considering the treatment and management for individuals with dementia three areas need to be carefully evaluated: medical issues, psychiatric symptoms, and meaningful activities. Incorporating these three components into treatment plans offer optimal ways to attain quality of life for dementia patients.”
—From Enhancing the Quality of Life in Advanced Dementia. Volicer, L. & Bloom-Charette, L. (Eds.) (1999). Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel.

Art and other expressive art activities serve as vital treatment modalities for older adults with dementias; these interventions can produce constructive changes, provide helpful transformations, and offer significant opportunities for socializing.

Though these changes and events may be short-lived they do, however, contribute over all to the quality of life of older adults.

In some cases when the patients are exposed to making art, and even viewing art, the changes and the memories appear longer lasting than the family and caregivers expected, lasting hours and some times even days after the creative experience.

More Examples of Therapeutic Art

"A scattered, shattered life"

A scattered, shattered life

"Sam," a patient recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, created this piece of art with torn pieces of construction paper. He said, "This is my life. This is how I am now." He titled it "A scattered, shattered life." Before he made this collage he refused to talk about how he felt. When he finally shared his feelings in the group, others were able to relate to him, share their feelings, and offer support to him. Working with collage provides an excellent medium for Parkinson patients. See a larger version of this work

"Storm in the Sky"

Storm in the Sky

In her first art therapy group session at the nursing home, "Alice" completed this watercolor picture. When asked to comment about it she said, "Since I came here it seems like there is a big dark cloud hanging over me, following me wherever I go, and a big storm is brewing." See a larger version of this work »

"I feel like screaming."

I feel like screaming.

This simple drawing was done by an 80 year old woman who usually sat quietly in the group session and did not participate. I always placed a piece of paper and some colors in front of her on the table. One day she picked up a red oil pastel and made this drawing. When I asked her if she wanted to say something about her drawing she said, "I feel like screaming." This was the first time she was able to express how she felt. See a larger version of this work »