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Introduction to Creative and Sensory Therapies for Alzheimer's Disease

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Updated: November 7, 2006

Enhancing the Lives of People With Dementia

All societies value creativity and creative expression. When someone has brain damage as the result of a disease like Alzheimer's, many of their skills change and decline. As Alzheimer's disease progresses, caregivers have to explore new ways to engage with people who have the disease. In this article, I have put together a list of activities that can enhance a person's creativity and other abililties, and if you have a helpful activity you would like to share, please do so (see below.)

Aims of Creative and Sensory Activities for People with Alzheimer's:

  • to promote wellbeing
  • to help maintain skills
  • to use other senses to aid communication by using sensory rather than cognitive pathways.
  • to maintain and enhance relationships
  • for relaxation
  • to utilize past skills
  • to express emotion
  • to facilitate decision making
  • As a means of cooperating with others
  • Let's Look at Some Activities With Links to More Information

    There are many activities that use our creative skills. One of the interesting things about using creative skills is that often people who had skills in an area, such as painting or sculpting, often seem unable or unwilling to explore them further when they have a chronic illness such as dementia. New creative and imaginative activities have to be explored.

    Sensory activities are well established for people with Alzheimer's. Aromatherapy and massage is a good example.

    Reminiscence Reminiscence refers to recollections of memories from the past. Reminiscence is about exchanging memories with the old and young, friends and relatives, with caregivers and professionals, passing on information, wisdom and skills. Reminiscence is about giving the person with Alzheimer’s a sense of value, importance, belonging, power and peace.

    Lesley, an acquaintance of mine, sent me this great article about how this activity helped her. Lesley's Tip- Reminiscence Manuals

    Painting, pottery, sculpting can be done as an individual or group activity. You can try out the different mediums.

    Drama is usually used as a therapy in long-term care or day centers as a means of communication and therapy. A drama therapist's skill is needed to make the experience meaningful. Not only can drama therapy meet many of the aims of creative therapy and treatment previously mentioned, it can also help with diagnosis and evaluation, too. An example might be someone enacting how the medication they take makes them feel, or the therapist seeing what effect a new medication has on the way a person behaves. This information can feed into patient evaluation.
    Drama therapy usually involves people of mixed skills and abilities and can use other mediums, such as art, to assist in creative expression.

    Dancing and movement can be an activity offered in day and inpatient centers and it doubles as an enjoyable exercise. But just having a good dance to music that the person with Alzheimer's can remember, or is part of their era, is reason enough. Make sure you give yourselves a bit of space!

    Cooking is a great means of expression, especially for women. It clues into their previous activities and skills and new ways for them to give back to their caregivers

    I hope I have given you some useful ideas. Try them out. I would love to hear how you cope. We would all like to. Why not submit an article passing on all your tips and ideas.

    Atricle Sources Include:
    Cantley, Caroline (ed). A Handbook of Dementia Care. 2001. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 2001.

    Bornat, Joanna (ed). Reminiscience Reviewed. 1995. Bristol P A: Open University Press, 1995.

    Kitwood, Tom. Dementia Reconsidered-the person comes first. 1997. New York: Open University Press, 2004.

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