Art Therapy has many benefits for people in aged care. It can allow the expression of complex thoughts and emotions, help to alleviate anxiety and depression, improve motor skills and cognitive functioning, and encourage socialising.
Art Therapy and self-expression
Finding the words and a non-threatening environment in which to express oneself isn’t easy. Art Therapy allows people in aged care to communicate in a free, safe way. According to Beyond Blue, Art Therapy can assist with emotional well being and depression in both community and residential care settings. (http://resources.beyondblue.org.au/prism/file?token=BL/1263A)
One Australian example demonstrating this is The Knitting Room, which started in 2003, in Tasmania’s Rosetta Community Residential Care Home. Guided by professional artist Robyn Carney, 50 residents created a display resembling a 1950s home, using only knitting and crochet.
The project was so successful that it soon received funding from the Australia Council Community Development Fund, Tasmanian Regional Arts and the Glenorchy City Council, which allowed expansion to six other regional centres. The resulting works were publicly exhibited several times, including at the ABC’s Sydney headquarters (2006), 10 Days on the Island Festival (2007) in Tasmania and Launceston’s regional Arts Conference (2010). (http://www.unitingagewell.org/Pages/The-Knitting-Room.aspx)
Art Therapy, anxiety, depression and aged care
In 1997, Massachusetts-based therapist Lee Doric-Henry conducted a study, investigating the impact of making pottery on older adults with various impairments – both physical and cognitive. A group of 20 participants learned to throw pots using the ‘Eastern Method’, which involves using one piece of clay to make many pots.
When compared with a 20-member control group, the potters demonstrated major decreases in anxiety and depression, in addition to improved self-esteem. (http://www.annalsoflongtermcare.com/article/use-art-therapy-geriatric-populations) Those with particularly severe depression, extreme anxiety, and low confidence experienced the most significant benefits.
Art Therapy and dementia
The first thorough study of the impact of Art Therapy on people with Alzheimer’s Disease was conducted in the 1990s, by University of Sussex researchers Dr Jennifer Rusted and Linda Sheppard, in conjunction with University of London’s Professor Diane Waller.
Over the course of ten weeks, one group of patients attended art therapy sessions, while a control group took part in talking and socialising. The researchers discovered that the first group experienced reduced symptoms of depression, along with improved cognitive ability. (https://fightdementia.org.au/sites/default/files/20070900_Nat_QDC_QDC3NurturingHeart.pdf)
Another important researcher in the field of Art Therapy and dementia is the University of California’s Dr Bruce Miller. In a 2004 interview with the ABC’s Julie Browning, he said, “As people lose the ability to name, to conceptualise what things are, they are forced into much more visual ways of thinking about the world.”
His research suggests that the loss of language, which is associated with degeneration of the left side of the brain, can lead to improved artistic and musical abilities (https://fightdementia.org.au/sites/default/files/20070900_Nat_QDC_QDC3NurturingHeart.pdf)
Some common Art Therapy treatments used in Aged Care
There are many art based activities that are used with Aged care. Art Therapist and IKON Graduate Mia Jaric, has provided some of her most popular Art Therapies for aged care below.
- The elderly enjoy doing wooden puzzles, even with only several pieces (up to 9).
- Most of the elderly love to do an activity I introduce to them which is about themselves, empowering them and acknowledge their qualities. For example ‘I AM ….(brave, authentic etc). I type and print these words on paper in different colours.
- They love doing painting with acrylic, experimenting eg instead of using a brush they were willing to use a roller instead. I noticed that they do not like to be messy, so finger painting or earthy clay is not always received well.
- When doing a Sand play some people commented that it was too cold for them and they did not want to do it, so save this or warm days only.
- Ladies enjoy weaving. Even some gentleman enjoy doing it. We use various materials such as wool or ribbons or raffia.
- Zentangles (a fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns) are popular as well. We are using their names or initials and do zentangles within the outline letters.
- When we are working with plasticine I must be extra careful as some people with dementia would put into their mouth. They love the softness of this medium.
- Marbling has an outstanding success. For ladies I am using doilies, for men I cut circle shapes on watercolour paper, as soaks the colours very well. Also using natural products such as shells or eucalyptus leaves in a mandala shape are very popular.
- 3D objects such as wooden letters (usually their initials) embellished with shells had an outstanding outcome resulting in a great deal of enjoyment.
- Using textile materials with various textures and colours are very popular among female population.
Studying Art Therapy With IKON
The IKON Institute is Australia’s largest provider of nationally accredited Art Therapy training.
IKON provides a range of nationally accredited vocational education training at an Advanced Diploma or Graduate Diploma qualification level and a Higher Education Degree; Bachelor of Arts Psychotherapy. Our trainers also run a series of webinars, workshops and masterclasses. If you would like more information, please contact us or visit our website at ikoninstitute.edu.au.