Every 4 seconds a life changes forever. Somewhere in the world a new case of Alzheimer’s arises, adding up to a shocking 0.5% of the global population, that is, 36.5 million lives. This figure alone reflects the magnitude of Alzheimer’s disease and the urgent need to care for the elderly. The challenge lies in finding resources to combat it. However, there is an unknown means within everyone’s reach that could be the key to this fight. It is the fusion of therapy and art for the regeneration of well-being: Art therapy.

Art therapy: Emotional introspection through the arts

Art therapy is a new alternative that promotes wellness for the elderly. This exercise focuses on the expression of our emotions and feelings through a creative process, which includes music, painting, sculpture or photography. The practice with these arts takes us from fantasies, desires and dreams to our deepest memories. It develops the capacity for self-exploration of our identity, reinforcing the affective memory, which, according to experts, is preserved until the last stages of dementia. In this memory fall those memories that made us feel and the ability to relive this feeling through memory. This is installed as a deep memory, since those that are linked to emotions, are the ones that remain longer in our memory. Beyond the memory, it enables us to express ourselves when our verbal capacity does not allow us to do so, therefore, it allows us to maintain basic cognitive abilities such as: perception, attention, spatial association, etc.

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Unlock your creativity through the Flow State

Art therapy, as a process of self-creation that involves symbolization through images and the personal relationship with the therapist, provides fertile ground for the manifestation of the state of flow. This concept, rescued by the psychologist Csikszentmihalyi, provides a framework for understanding and evaluating the process of art therapy.

In technical terms, this flow state represents an optimal state of experience in which the person is completely immersed in an activity. During this state, thoughts, emotions and movements emerge in a continuous and fluid manner, giving rise to a moment of instant creativity.

Therefore, art therapy, as a process of self-creation involving symbolization through images and the personal relationship with the therapist, provides fertile ground for the manifestation of the state of flow. When a person succeeds in entering this state while participating in an art therapy session, a cycle is triggered in which the challenge of the activity is perceived, a continuous flow of creativity is experienced, a greater awareness of one’s own abilities is acquired and, as a result, a significant improvement in self-concept is produced.

Benefits in psychological well-being: 5 areas favored by art therapy

According to recent research, it reveals a visible improvement in the field of psychological well-being in individuals diagnosed with dementia thanks to the application of art therapy. In this context, experts identify 5 areas that are directly favored:

  • Self-acceptance: This area is distinguished by its ability to foster self-awareness in the individual, promoting the ability to recognize and accept both their positive and less favorable qualities that make up their identity.
  • Positive social relationships: The environment generated by art therapy favors the development of empathy and positive social interaction. It also provides a platform for the cultivation of social skills such as active listening, thus improving the quality of interpersonal relationships.
  • Autonomy: In this area, the individual enjoys freedom of choice as to what he or she wishes to express through his or her artistic activity. This autonomy not only fosters self-determination, but also promotes freedom of personal expression and a sense of control over one's own life.
  • Finding a purpose: Art therapy, as previously explained, triggers a process of introspection in the individual, providing a safe space to reflect on their personal identity. For people with dementia, this opportunity can be transformative in allowing them to find meaning in which to orient their lives.
  • Personal growth: Art therapy provides tools and skills that empower the individual within his or her own capabilities. This process brings the possibility of substantial personal growth, including self-improvement and exploration of the emotional dimensions that define their life experience.
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Caring for our elders through art therapy

Intervention through art therapy in individuals facing dementia has yielded significant findings in the field of psychology, focusing particularly on the emotional sphere. Dementia is a disease that affects not only memory and cognition, but also the emotional and psychological health of those who suffer from it. In this context, art therapy stands as a valuable tool in the care of older people with dementia. It provides a means of nonverbal expression through intuitive graphic visual presentations, allowing individuals to channel negative emotions and alleviate behavioral psychological symptoms, which, in turn, improves quality of life (Wang et al., 2016).

Malchiodi (2017) supports this perspective by arguing that art therapy uses simple artistic activities to help individuals express themselves and develop a sense of well-being through the creative process. Artistic creation, whether through drawings, paintings, sculptures, or collages, facilitates the manifestation of thoughts, feelings, and ideas that are often difficult to express in words. Working with artistic materials, learning new skills and developing ideas through visual media gives people a sense of self-satisfaction, personal accomplishment and fulfillment.

Research supported by Chancellor et al. (2014) sheds light on the benefits of art therapy in patients with dementia. Rather than focusing on correcting disabilities, art therapy is based on skill preservation. In addition, it provides an avenue for emotional expression in people who have difficulty communicating verbally, which is particularly relevant in the context of dementia. The process of artistic creation can also generate a state of comfort, associated with a sense of well-being.

Artistic expression is not only limited to visual creation, but can also contribute to generating new perspectives and promote emotional resilience, mood and self-esteem. Interaction with art therapy can strengthen support networks and self-expression in people with dementia, suggesting a possible impact on strengthening synaptic connections, stimulating various brain regions (Ehresman, 2014).

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The Voice of Creativity: Breaking Barriers in Dementia

Art therapy proves to be an essential bridge between the patient’s mind and the outside world. Studies have suggested that this form of therapy not only attracts the attention of patients with advanced dementia, but also brings them significant pleasure. In addition, it has been observed to improve neuropsychiatric symptoms, social behavior, and self-esteem of affected individuals. Chancellor et al. (2014) emphasize that this intervention can trigger a transformation in patients’ quality of life, bringing relief to their daily struggle. Advanced dementia may create barriers in communication, but it cannot extinguish the spark of creativity and emotional expression. Art therapy stands as a valuable resource for dementia patients through the evocation of memory, providing a medium through which they can express their feelings and experience greater well-being. In the midst of difficulties, visual art sheds light by generating a meaningful channel of communication for those coping with advanced dementia. The literature suggests that this approach can improve the quality of life and emotional well-being of these patients, giving them a voice when words fade.

The combination of therapy and art provides a new strategy in the fight against dementia. Its application not only seeks to improve emotional expression, introspection or communication through creativity, it also illuminates the lives of those facing dementia, offering a voice in moments of silence. It breaks down barriers generating benefits in the quality of life and emotional well-being of those affected by dementia. Therefore, looking to the future, we must put into practice this type of resources available to all, to integrate and cook all the benefits they can bring both in our elders and in ourselves. The holistic approach of art therapy makes it suitable for anyone who wants to practice it, now is the time to bring out your creativity and start improving your well-being.

Written by:

Paula Taguas Labrador

Sinews, Hacemos Fácil lo Difícil
Sinews MTI
Multilingual Therapy Institute
Psychology, Psychiatry and Speech Therapy
Clinic Appointment