Art Therapy for Memory Loss

October 3, 2014
Art therapy may improve symptoms of memory disorders

Art therapy may improve symptoms of memory disorders

Families of aging parents battling Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias are aware of therapies designed to lessen the impact of memory loss.  Examples of therapies under consideration are music therapy and exercise therapy.  Some families are turning to art therapy for memory loss.

Art and the Brain

Much of memory loss involves searching for things which once were readily accessible in the brain but which now are missing or hard to find. Using art can sometimes help to counteract this.

Because viewing or creating art is a visual process, it calls upon slightly different portions of the brain; viewing and interpreting a painting or sculpture exercises brain “muscles” in a way that is different from reading or having a conversation. Because of this, new associations (or old memories) that might not have found their way to the surface in a different situation  sometimes ”pop up” when an individual is immersed in an artistic experience.

Art Therapy and Dementia

When memory loss is associated with dementia, it may be beneficial to involve a patient in the actual creation of a work of art. It doesn’t really matter if the patient has artistic talent; the goal is not to create a work of art to rival those of Rembrandt or Rodin, but merely to use the process of artistic creation to stimulate the brain.

Often a person with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia finds it difficult to locate the specific words and meanings that they need in order to communicate with another person effectively. For some people so afflicted, it may be easier to communicate visually, through a drawing, a painting, or a piece of sculpture.

For example, if Father cannot find the words to express that he is hungry, he may be still be able to get this message across through a quick sketch. Mother may not be able to express concern about her sister but may be able to convey this with a painting.

Not all of the communications need be so practical and direct. Sometimes accessing one’s artistic skills can result in pictures of long ago memories or long forgotten friends.

If a caregiver is working with a person with memory loss, it is worth consulting with the doctor to see if some form of art therapy may be beneficial to them. If nothing else, it may give the patient a new horizon to explore and enjoy.


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