photo of woman painting a bowl she just madeMany experts believe that art therapy can help individuals with dementia express themselves — beyond words and language. “In nurturing, calm, supportive settings, they sometimes have  moments of clarity and express things that shock us all,” says Ruth Drew, director of family and information services for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Creating art engages a part of the brain that is different from language. Creativity can actually emerge even after the effects of dementia have progressed. “We think that in patients with language loss, the visual side of their brain stops being inhibited by the verbal side and that allows their visual creativity to be released,” says Dr. Bruce Miller of the Memory and Aging Center at UCSF.

Project tips from The Alzheimer’s Association:

• Keep the project on an adult level. Avoid anything that might be demeaning or seem childlike.
• Build conversation. Discuss what the person is creating or reminiscing about.
• Help the person begin the activity. If painting, you may need to start the brush movement.
• Use safe materials, tools and substances.
• Relax and enjoy the process. The artist doesn’t have to finish the project in one sitting.

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