Art and dementia care II

June 10, 2007

In dementia care, I don’t accept the convential assumptions about the limitations of someone with the condition. As an artist I look first at the person not the disease, and secondly I focus on potentials and build on those.

Another helpful skill that transfers easily from art to care (and isn’t art a form of caring in itself?) is accepting something at face value and appreciating its intrinsic worth.
For example:

Situation 1
A member of staff gives a person with dementia a pencil and paper in the hope that he will write or draw. When the person starts to wind his tie around it, she gently stops him and takes the pencil away, perhaps trying another tool.

Situation 2
An artist or other person trained in creative thinking watches what the man does with the pencil and the tie. She notes the interest in the object and that there was some pleasure in the action of wrapping.
If it were me, I would provide dowels of different thicknesses and some string, wool and other cord. I would sit and accompany the person in wrapping cord around sticks and I think they would gain satisfaction and interest in the resulting object.

Art/care basics:
full attention for the subject/person; open attitude free of judgement; playful experimental stance; willingness to risk and learn from the situation; inventiveness; and appreciation for what is, for the moment, and for the magic of the encounter.

2 Responses to “Art and dementia care II”

  1. Susan Roberts Says:

    I am interested in offering art experiences to dementia patients at a dementia care unit. Your approach is encouraging. I am an artist / teacher and my father (a retired dentist) suffers from Demetia and is among the group I will teach . The approach there has been fill the color in the painting that is drawn by the teacher. The director thinks another approach will frustrate the residents. Any feedback??


  2. szoutewelle Says:

    Hi Susan, I’ve mailed you privately, but basically I think that the most effective contacts can be made working one to one.
    If you must work in a group, see if you can find one activity that can be slightly adapted to individual needs and preferences.

    One thing I had success with was to draw a landscape in outline and have them search through magazines for sky, field, tree and flower colours and cut and paste them in. This activity can be scaled; for instance people more cognitively adept and visually oriented can cut out fantasy objects and paste them in and tell a story about it, while others may be only able to identify a colour and cut it out for someone else to paste in.
    I’ve also worked on a group collage with a theme…. ‘summmer’ for example.

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