Alzheimer’s is a difficult, debilitating disease. While there is no cure, there are certain prevention methods, tools, and treatments that may help manage symptoms. Alternative therapies like art, music, and writing therapy are extremely beneficial. Not only are they enjoyable because they allow self-expression, they are stimulating to the brain. Whether it’s music, art, writing, or dancing, alternative therapies can be a life-enriching experience for those with Alzheimer’s.
Not only is art and music a great way to keep people busy, if they’ve lost the ability to speak verbally, they can use art as a way to communicate in a new language. While impacting the senses, music and art therapy can bring forth long forgotten memories and spark conversation. Studies show that art can boost cognitive function in certain parts of the brain. Art (including music) uses a different part of the brain than language does, so the brain begins to navigate new communication paths. Many times, art therapists find that even as certain motor skills fail, artistic skills remain intact. In some cases, neuroscientists believe muscle memory is at work, which is how musicians can still play with ease even in later stages of Alzheimer’s.
You’ve probably heard stories about a patient who didn’t talk much or couldn’t remember anything but heard a song from their youth and sang it word for word. Recent memories may easily fade, but memories from long ago are easier to recall with Alzheimer’s.
Music is powerful and can be used as a tool to evoke certain emotions. Trying to choose the type of music they might enjoy or letting them choose if they can is best. Irritability, confusion, and behavioral issues are common symptoms of Alzheimer’s in the middle-stages of the disease. Choose the music to match the mood you want to create. If you’re hoping to calm the patient down, a tranquil song is best. If you are looking to boost happiness, play an upbeat song from their glory days. Encourage interaction through movement, whether it be foot-tapping, clapping, or dancing. Playing an instrument, such as getting a group together for a drumming circle, is also extremely beneficial.
Creating art will bring Alzheimer’s patients a sense of accomplishment. It’s important that, even if the patient may have lost some of their ability, you don’t set up a project that is meant for children. They may need assistance as they paint. Talk to them and prompt them to reflect on what they’re creating; it will encourage self-expression and hopefully help them reminisce. Viewing art, and exploring other art forms like dance and writing, can be very therapeutic too.
Music and art encourage communication. They stimulate the brain in new ways and help patients avoid the isolation that can make symptoms feel even more overwhelming. With art and music therapy, patients can add beauty to the world in their own unique way and increase their quality of life. Consider a combination of writing, music, dance, and art therapy to encourage the most personal expression.