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5 Ways Art Therapy Can Help the Elderly

5 Life-Changing Benefits of Art Therapy for Seniors

  • Improves Cognition
  • Brightens Mood
  • Hones Motor Skills
  • Invites Socialization
  • Reduces Stress

A fun form of self-expression, art therapy combines elements of psychotherapy and the visual arts. Sessions are conducted by a credentialed art therapist, trained in the use of art media to reveal thoughts and feelings. Clients reap physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits, markedly improving their life quality. Here's what this modality entails and what it achieves for seniors.

See our ranking of The Best Undergraduate Degrees in Art Therapy Ranked by Affordability.

1. Improves Cognition

Creating artwork activates multiple brain regions simultaneously, exercising the mind. In a senior with dementia, painting can unlock latent memories. Making collages can recall happy times. For an elder with impaired speech, drawing aids communication.

Rehab that includes art and speech therapy can restore language skills after a stroke. Recovery is possible through a phenomenon called "brain plasticity." This is the ability of healthy neurons to assume the functions of damaged brain cells. The degree of recovery depends on the extent of brain injury.

Plus, using the imagination spurs the brain to form new neurons! Repairing neural networks strengthens cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving. A 2014 study published in the Croatian Medical Journal describes brain plasticity in the context of art therapy.

Handcrafting also touches the senses, heightening alertness, orientation, and attention to details. Through these cognitive benefits of art therapy, seniors can better communicate.

2. Brightens Mood

The challenges of aging can trigger various unpleasant emotions, including depression, anxiety, and helplessness. Designing art channels negativity into productive activity. By inducing a meditative state, crafting is relaxing. Absorbed in creativity, seniors get a reprieve from troubling concerns.

For example, pottery-making vents frustration, yielding pretty ceramics. The sense of accomplishment boosts self-esteem and confidence. In a senior with Alzheimer's disease, coloring calms agitation, restlessness, and combative tendencies. In a depressed elder, jewelry-making sparks enthusiasm and pride.

Additionally, art therapists help seniors process unconscious thoughts and feelings. While working on a project, the therapist might ask if the activity evokes any memories. If so, the therapist uses psychological techniques to help elders talk about their difficulties. Buoyed by the kind attention of a skilled professional, clients feel supported.

3. Hones Motor Skills

Crafting improves coordination and dexterity. In a person with arthritis, gentle activities increase joint flexibility. Muscle contractions increase blood flow, easing inflammation.

Art therapy releases dopamine, a hormone that revs motivation. If seniors attend sessions regularly, they can make functional gains. The cumulative effects of movement can also lessen chronic pain. Achievement prompts the brain to produce endorphins, hormones that soften pain awareness.

In a 2006 hospital study, 50 oncology patients reported much less discomfort after an hour of art therapy. Outcomes were charted using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale, a tool measuring nine symptoms common to cancer patients. Performed at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the remarkable study results are detailed here by Science Daily.

4. Invites Socialization

Art therapists work with seniors in mental health clinics, nursing homes, rehab centers, hospitals, senior centers, and assisted living facilities. They can opt to hold sessions individually and in groups. In both settings, the lighthearted meetings prevent isolation among attendees.

Over time, seniors can acquire close-knit friendships and a sense of belonging. Social interactions enhance cognitive function, hedging against dementia. Bonding with others affirms self-worth, and laughter launches a surge of uplifting endorphins.

From A Place for Mom, here's a model art therapy program in effect at 11 assisted living facilities in Virginia.

5. Reduces Stress

If a senior is struggling with loss, illness, or trauma, the therapist can suggest an art medium to help them cope. As an elder works on a project, it takes on their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.

The art therapist can recognize embedded messages, expressed as patterns, themes, colors, shapes, and the relative positions of objects. With these clues to a senior's state, the therapist can re-frame challenges, so they're less overwhelming.

Designing a beautiful object puts distance between a client and their problems. The sense of control this provides is empowering. Deep in self-expression, tension melts. Seniors leave sessions feeling stronger, happier, and more resilient.

Bright Smiles

Everyone has creative talent. Even in seniors with cognitive loss, inventiveness persists. Art therapists receive training in psychotherapy, family systems, and art education, the fruit of a master's degree. If you're passionate about uplifting people, this could be your niche.

For many seniors, aging is grueling. You can help sustain their cognitive function, motor skills, and mental wellness. You'll give them ways to reduce stress and connect with others. Your days will be filled with the joy of brightening seniors' lives. With a career in art therapy, you'll weave a tapestry of grateful smiles.