Dementia & Alzheimer's: Maintaining Communication with Music and Art

    May 01,2015

    By: Dr. Doris Bersing

    Here are some helpful tips for maintaining communication with people living with dementia who can no longer actively create or express their emotions. To do this well, you need to engage with your own sense of wonder and joy. Try some of the expressive arts interventions such as:

    Music and Singing with Elders

    Many studies have documented the benefits of music for elders. According to one report, a man in his seventies with Alzheimer's, who previously did not talk, joined a local choir and within weeks showed dramatic improvement. He was able to hold lucid conversations with his spouse and demonstrated a new sense of well-being to witnesses aware of his history. Another report concludes that when Karaoke is offered at an assisted-living facility, elders who are usually quiet suddenly come alive; for a few moments each week, they are able to participate with others in an activity they can still do. Their otherwise cloudy minds become clear; thanks to a rhythm and sound that fosters memories of gone years.

    Poetry Therapy with Elders

    Poetry gives each one of us a voice. For elders who often times feel powerless and forgotten, poetry offers a potent way for their voices to be heard. Read poetry aloud; choose rhythmic verses and both familiar and unfamiliar poems.

    Using Drama and Play with Elders

    The magic of drama, story, and play can be explored by using theatrical elements to assist elders in playing out unfinished life issues. These elements let us participate in their stories—and support them in the process.

    Building a Scrapbook of History and Memories

    Building a scrapbook with our elders can be hugely beneficial for them and their family members. Photos and stories will spark memories and give them a way to share their personal journey. Try making up a small box of interesting objects that can be taken out, held, and discussed. Women may enjoy bits of lace; fragments of silk; or shiny, colorful objects such as shells, jewelry, or tiny nonthreatening animals. Men may prefer polished stones, fossils, packets of seeds, drill keys (the one which unlocks four different sizes is a lovely shape), old pipes, toy cars. As a family member you may have access to familiar objects that have been important to your elder.

    Scarves, Color and Movement

    The use of color can stimulate, relax, and help elders feel more alert. Color has a direct impact on all of us, but it is especially important for elders who have limited movement. Scarves provide an inspiring way for elders to move and participate with others. For wheelchair-bound seniors, scarves allow reaching out and connecting with others. You can add music and create a type of ballet.

    Daily Activities Can be Meaningful and Adapted to Seniors

    If your loved one is unable to speak or speaks only with great difficulty:

    • Tell her stories about the world. Describe walking along the beach, watching a sunrise, children playing in the garden.
    • Go slowly through picture books such as art, garden or travel books.
    • Give her things to hold and feel that have pleasing textures, like shells, leaves, or cotton.
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