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The Benefits of Art & Music Therapy for Alzheimer Residents

By Heather Brown
May 20, 2016

Art and music therapy offers a way for residents to communicate their feelings in a non-verbal manner which is particularly important to those that suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia and are not always capable of communicating verbally.  Art therapy is defined as a “creative method of expression used as a therapeutic technique” according to Wikipedia.org and music therapy is defined as “the use of interventions to accomplish individual goals”. These methods of therapy are often utilized by social workers in one on one settings with children and adults of all ages and allow for individuals to heal emotionally, spiritually and even physically.  Individuals that have not channeled their inner artist tend to shy away from creative projects and tasks but everybody has some form of creative abilities (even if it is just splashing paint on a canvas).  This partnered with the low cost of implementing; make art and music therapy easy to bring to the residents in your adult residential care home or facility.
The common goal of all therapies includes finding a method to help individuals heal emotionally, spiritually or physically.  How an individual heals physically from art and music therapy may be difficult to understand but often times an individual that suffers from a traumatic injury also suffers from emotional injury that can keep them from properly healing.  Residents in your care come from a plethora of backgrounds and places and each of these residents may benefit from therapy.  Some residents are injured emotionally and mentally by placed in the assisted living model, thinking they have been abandoned by their families. Other residents may suffer from serious illnesses like dementia or Alzheimer’s that do not always allow them to communicate the emotions on a level that those caring for them or other residents understand.  Art and music therapy benefit each of these types of residents and provide them with the opportunity to express themselves through drawing, coloring, painting, or noise.
There are many benefits achieved by participating in art and music therapy that would be beneficial to your residents.  Therapists that use creative measures to work with individuals help them identify emotions and feelings in their creative pieces allowing the individual to start to process and heal.  Creative therapy also helps to reduce pain and anxiety and increases and develops social skills in those that are typically shy. In situations where individuals are suffering a loss of a loved one, art therapy allows the individual to share their emotions creatively and share memories which is important during these times as it is often hard to vocalize. Other benefits include improved self esteem, increased attention span, decreased stress and it promotes relaxation.
There are actual licensed art and music therapists that you can hire to begin therapy sessions in your adult residential care home. These therapists can be found online at arttherapy.org which is the website for The American Art Therapy Association.  However, there are options for offering art and music therapy to your residents that do not require you to hire a therapist.  Here are a few ideas that you can easily implement with your residents:
1. Gift making- Plan an afternoon for your residents to make homemade gifts for their loved ones or other residents.  Gift ideas include ornaments, jewelry, or memory boxes.
2. Scrapbooking or making memory books- Ask your residents to get their mementos and pictures out of boxes and help them make a memory book highlighting their most prized memories.  This idea sparks conversation among your residents and will promote storytelling and communication.
3. Impromptu band night- Fun musical instruments are easy to find at yard sales or your local shopping center. You can provide maracas, tambourines, drums, a harmonica and even a kazoo for your residents to have fun making their own music.
4. Expressive Art- Provide your residents with paints and a canvas and ask them to paint their current emotions.  No two projects will be the same. Be sure to look for pieces that show darkness or sadness.  Help these residents identify (privately) what may be causing these types of emotions.
5. Coloring books. We all loved coloring as children and today adult coloring books are a fad still on the rise.  Coloring in the lines is soothing and is known to relieve stress.
6. Recycled musical instrument project- This is a fun project to get both your residents and staff involved in during Earth Week.  Collect items that can recycled and turned them into musical instruments (like plastic jugs and egg cartons) and then provide a time for the residents to show what they have found and play a tune!
Art and music therapy provide a great opportunity to help your residents express themselves and the benefits will help to improve their quality of life.

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