art therapy

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.




ART and art of not judging fellow humans

sherryjacobswebThe Olympics serve as an incredible opportunity for collaboration, cross cultural understanding and personal growth, even from the convenience of the couch upon which one sits to watch the spectacle. As the Winter Olympics of Sochi progresses, millions of people are tuning in to witness these 17 days unfold.

Detractors might be focused on the security threats and unfinished amenities connected to this particular event, but at its essence is an unusual opportunity for exploring our connection to our own culture. For those lucky enough to be hanging around the Olympic Village for the next few weeks, their opportunity for cultural exploration is heightened by living in such close proximity to “others” with their sleek outfits displaying their nation of origin literally on their sleeves. Reports from the front describe a beautiful and magical atmosphere, with people from so many different cultures living in close proximiy to one another.

Today’s art exercise will take this opportunity to reflect on our own culture and investigate our attitudes towards others outside of our culture. Please find some paper and jot down some messages you are getting from your culture these days…maybe from: popular songs, commercials, twitter feeds, newspapers, blogs, friends etc. Are there any messages of an “us” vs. “them” peppering your thoughts? Can you bring your thoughts down to a personal level and think about anyone you encountered in your day as an “other” whom you might have unfairly judged? Could you be brave and share your list of messages with them as an opportunity for a cross cultural experience? If you can, there is a strong likelihood that you will have your very own Olympic Village moment. Good Luck Earthling.

Recycled images and words

Today’s project is a bit more complicated, but well worth the effort. Please find some stuff (magazines, junk mail, newspaper etc) headed for the recycle bin, glue/tape, scissors and paper. Think about how you are feeling today. Search through this pile of paper and see if any words or images jump out that reflect your current mood. Cut them out and assemble them on your page (using glue or tape) in a collage form. Might appear a bit elementary, but if you check out any Southeby’s catalogs over the past 30 years, you will see that some people have managed to use this medium to convey some serious emotions and earn millions of bucks along the way.  

Yesterday’s project: How do your hands look? Are there more things you are trying to let go or more things you are hanging on to for this coming year? Can you set some more goals based on the results from this project? Do any of the things you wrote match the goals set over the previous week’s art exercises? Are you being completely honest about the things you need to let go of, or are there more that are too difficult to write down, think about or deal with? Sometimes it is good to go back in a few days and look at artwork and reevaluate whether you were being honest with yourself.


Setting goals through art making

The first week in January is an opportune time to set a goal for the coming year. Being realistic about goals is a great way to make sure they will remain with you throughout the year. For an art exercise to explore your goal, we will be writing a letter to ourselves. Please date the letter December 31, 2012. Begin by complimenting yourself on the great job you did completing your goal you set for yourself. Discuss the challenges you overcame and the feelings connected to success and anything else you imagine you might experience in the coming year as you achieve this goal. Once you write this letter, set it aside for a few days, then re-read it and begin your journey toward accomplishing it. Good Luck