Art therapy for seniors with memory loss

Helping Seniors with Memory Loss

Embracing Creativity Can Benefit Those with Cognitive Decline

Many people enjoy creating art as a hobby, career, or medium for self-expression. And, its unique ability to enable people to express what they cannot put into words makes it an ideal practice for older adults who are experiencing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive decline. For those who struggle with memory loss, making and appreciating art can provide a meaningful way to express creativity, communication, and joy.

Christophe Boïcos, who represents the estate of William Utermohlen – an American artist who painted self-portraits from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease through his death – has seen first hand how art can provide a much-needed outlet. In an article published on Artsy, writer Rob Sharp reports that Boïcos credits Utermohlen’s nurse with encouraging the artist to focus on self-portraiture as a creative outlet. “I think that was very helpful in concentrating his mind, because at that point he couldn’t speak,” Boïcos told Sharp. “One of the main frustrations Alzheimer’s patients have is they are conscious but they are not able to communicate. If they can express what they are feeling through drawing and painting they… will find a lot of solace in doing so.”

The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation in New York echoes this rationale, emphasizing that the negative results of Alzheimer’s disease – impaired memory, difficulty retaining information, and problems surrounding language – don’t affect people’s ability to create or appreciate art. “Patients with Alzheimer’s have rich internal emotional lives that might find expression in the art making process?,” the Foundation’s website explains. “Through the use of line, form and color, art may provide a way for those with the disease to express their inner emotions and feelings.”

Joseph Pritchard, M.D., health services administrator at the Masonic Homes, has found that ceramics is a popular outlet for Masonic Homes residents with cognitive decline.  “They love the process of holding and shaping the clay, and really benefit from remembering their ability to create something beautiful out of nothing,” he says. “It can be a very meaningful and empowering experience.” And, he adds, natural creativity is not required. Many older adults enjoy creating greeting cards, collages, and other tactile projects.

If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, use these tips to help your loved one access their creative side.

  1. Appreciate art in your community. Reach out to your local library and museum for information about art appreciation courses. Many are geared towards older adults and caregivers. Visit a local gallery, university, or mural and take time to appreciate the many colors and figures. Attend a free concert or visit a coffee shop with live music. Start a dialogue with your loved one – tell them what you enjoy and ask for their opinions.
  2. Take time to reminisce. What does a particular piece of artwork or music remind you of? Use your reflection upon art as an opportunity to deepen your connection with your loved one.
  3. Provide a medium and supplies for creativity. Art supplies don’t need to be expensive to have a positive effect. If your loved one enjoyed painting or drawing, choose good-quality charcoal pencils, watercolor paints, or water-soluble acrylics. If needed, demonstrate how to hold the pencil or paint brush. Creating handmade cards, paper flowers, or other small crafts are also a great place to start.
  4. Be flexible and try new things. Even if your loved one was a crocheting whiz in the past, it doesn’t mean that she will still be interested in that craft today. It’s natural for people’s interests to change and evolve over time. Keep trying different activities until you find one that your loved one enjoys. Creativity is subjective and different people find joy in many activities throughout their lifetimes.
  5. Flex your own creativity. Participating in art therapy can be beneficial to you as a caregiver, too. Creating artwork can reduce your stress level, give you a creative outlet, and provide a way for you and your loved one to bond.

For more ideas for supporting your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, visit and search for “Caregiving.”

Learn more about what makes the Pavilion at Masonic Homes so special and which memory care program is right for you.