Alzheimer’s Disease and Art Therapy


Ready to be frightened by the future? Please don’t stress about a zombie apocolypse, because it looks like the next big thing to fear is Alzheimer’s disease. Due to the demographic shift of an aging species, the predictions are that by mid century, humans over the age of 65 will outnumber the amount of children living on the planet. Among this population, The World Health Organization predicts that diseases related to memory loss will triple, to reach 115 million people worldwide by mid century. Does this number shock you? It should. Sadly, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers often travel down a seemingly tragic path, as able bodied and independent adults slowly lose the ability to function at their optimal level of living. The choice for family members or loved ones is to follow them on their devastating path or create a new reality of living in the moment.

As families and caregivers move beyond the grief that accompanies this disease, often there is an opportunity for a new way of living. Once a person with dementia loses their ability to perseverate on the past or contemplate the future, there is a freedom with living in the present tense. While outsiders often find memory care units tragic and frightening, insiders/caregivers all recognize the surprising  beauty of living in the persent tense. In well run facilities, and when stress levels are diminished, really the primary emotion flowing in these places is love.

As an art therapist who has worked with the dementia population for the past seventeen years, my observation and experience is that what happens in “the moment” can have a residual impact on the rest of the “moments” in a person’s day. For years, I have observed people with dementia respond well to an environment of integrity. My fledging theory I am creating for working with families with dementia is called, Integrity Systems Theory.

Webster’s dictionary defines integrity as: the state of being whole and undivided. When the entire system supporting the person with Alzheimer’s shifts their focus from what was to what is, there is surprising opportunity for creating moments of integrity, and FIND the whole person who stills resides behind the memory loss.  The result? Lowered stress levels all around, making everyone’s day to day living slightly less stressful.

Art making and listening to music are fantastic avenues for reaching people who seem to have disappeared into their disease. Please take the time to watch the riveting documentary on the power of music/creativity with this population:  Alive Inside.





  1. I’m often struggling to help Maureen remember how she used to spend her time. She has always had a view that she can’t draw but I’ve seen some paintings that she did well before our time together. I’m just wondering if we could share doing one of those art colouring in books.

    My other idea is seeing if trying to play a musical instrument might help. Her dad used to play the piano ‘by ear,’ again I wonder if it is worth trying something on this front. They have a piano next door and they are prepared to help. Maureen loves singing along to all sorts of music so you never know : perhaps she could accompany me as I try to learn an instrument.

    I would really welcome your advice and any suggestions you might have. One final point Maureen is not a great social animal so we would have to start with anything in the home.

    1. Hello, Thanks for contacting me for ideas. My experience with art making and folks with dementia is that as the disease progresses, the resistance to making “good” art dissipates, while the interest level in just simply engaging in the process increases.

      Water color paints and paper tend to be the most popular with this population, and if you can engage in the process too that would be great. Please don’t give up after the first try if it doesn’t go well. The goal is really process over product.

      If you live in a community with a Memories in the Making painting group, this is an incredible organization to support art making with people with dementia. Here is a link to their website:

      1. Many thanks I’m not sure this type of therapy is in the U K but I’ll check it out. Maureen doesn’t like groups so I can integrate the thinking into my approach as a Care Partner. Adult Educators never retire we just go white on top of the head!

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