Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dementia: art, redirection, role play

There is much more being done with and for those with dementia. Remember, dementia is a symptom of many disorders, and is not a disorder in and of itself. 
Dementia results when the brain doesn't get the blood and the oxygen an nourishment it needs. It can be caused by Alzheimer's Disease, but also by a brain tumour, for example.
Denise Clark points out that it is important to get to the bottom of why the person is having an outburst, and treat the conditions that may be causing it. In fact, one NYT article: Giving Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate is a blast. It will only happen in the best of long-term care homes, those with enough staff to give someone a bath at 2:00 a.m., or to have chocolate on hand. I've seen many clients toting stuffed toys, or special hats or pillows. My Dad used to hang on to his stuffed toy from when he was 5 years old. Filled with straw, I know it wasn't sanitary, but what could I do? He told me he thought it was about 20 years old. Dad was 81 at the time! I would just play along with him.

Another great dementia resource: Dealing With Mood and Behavior Changes in Elderly Alzheimer's Patients: redirection, changing activities, role play. As a person with a degree in ECE, I can see how much it soothes a child to play in the 'house centre', or the paint, or water play centre. The idea is that the client can participate in soothing physical activities.
The gist of this article is to encourage the dementia patient to let of of the things that are causing them agitation, irritation, anxiety or aggressiveness. Redirect them into another activity. Get them to talk about themselves and their lives.

I am firmly convinced that, as a friend suggested, pediatrics, geriatrics, resolving issues can be much the same. Patience, perseverance, choosing your battle, keeping clients busy, entertained, amused and including hands-on activities and activities that they have always participated in.

The following is a trailer to a documentary, narrated by Olivia de Havilland, about the many benefits of arts for people with Alzheimer's. Having volunteered in an Expressive Arts Group for children, I have seen what happens when children work with clay, and work with their hands, while socializing with others can do for one's psyche. Playing with colour, form, shape, texture is what we do with young children. It is also something that seniors can do. Dementia doesn't have a cure, but we can ensure that seniors can live with dignity.

produced by French Connection Films and the Hilgos Foundation.

DVD available from,, artistsfor and  

Expressive Art Therapy for bereavement

So You Want to be an Art Therapist? A Multi-Part Series on Psychology Today
My last series of posts focused on the "top ten coolest art therapy interventions" historically and currently used in the field of art therapy


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post. I definitely agree that pediatrics and geriatrics are very similar. It is something I observed as my grandmother declined. Observing the kind of care patients in nursing homes received and knowing how much my grandmother used to enjoy arts and crafts spurred me to pursue a degree in Art Therapy. I am currently working towards this goal.

You state that you have a degree in ECE and I was wondering what that stood for. I gathered it is some kind of degree in expressive play therapy.

Jenn Jilks said...

ECE = Early Childhood Education!