Combating aging with art therapy has shown to be a powerful tool that can help your aging parent reconnect with themselves and the world. Painting, drawing, sculpting, paper crafts, writing, poetry, music, and even dance can all be part of an art therapy program. The are many reasons to design some art therapy for your parent, or to encourage them to participate in art therapy offered by their retirement community. Usually, these programs are guided, to make the most of the benefits that art therapy provide.
The Benefits of Art
Combating memory loss
Creating art forges new neural pathways in the brain and strengthens existing connections, which creates many cognitive benefits. Art therapy can prevent memory loss, especially through the exploration of specific memories. Asking your parent to paint or draw a memory or a specific place from their past can help with this. Some people end up organizing these artistic works into whole books on their parent’s life.
Other cognitive benefits include a reduction of boredom and increase in sensory stimulation. To increase these benefits, some art therapy programs use bright and textured materials like various types of papers, bold pre-mixed paints, or wilder materials like feathers and stones.
Combating depression and anxiety
The emotional benefits of art therapy are quite significant. According to Barbara Bagan, PhD, ATR-BC of Todays Gereatric Medicine, research has found that art therapy reduces both depression and anxiety in the elderly. Art therapy provides religious comfort, personal fulfillment and peace depending on how the therapy is structured. For example, to provide religious comfort an elder could be asked to design art around a religious passage that speaks to them.
Another emotional benefit which art therapy offers is an increase in self-esteem. But, to gain this benefit the therapy cannot involve activities that may be perceived as childish. Remember that even if your parent has never pursued art, they are still capable of developing advanced artistic skills. Bagan reveals that she knew one elderly man who went on from art therapy to successfully sell watercolor paintings.
Many independent or assisted living communities offer group art therapy classes as a way for participants to have fun and socialize. The humor and playfulness that this creative pursuit encourages may help your parent break out of their shell and connect with other people.
Art therapy even provides physical benefits. Painting and drawing is very relaxing, not just for the mind but for the body. The gentle movements help maintain strength, without stressing the body. Sometimes, an elder’s physical limitations may seem to prevent them from participating in art, but fixing the brush or pencil into a tennis ball can make it easier to hold, especially for those with arthritis or other conditions affecting the hands.
Overall, art therapy is a powerful tool to keep your parent engaged with those around them and with their own story and experiences. There are art therapists who can help you develop a program suited to your parent. Alternatively, you can find many ideas online about art therapy (just be sure you’re looking for ideas for adults, as art therapy is popular for children too).
Looking for low-cost art projects for your parent? These websites are full of great ideas: