Sensory stimulation is the simplest form of gathering and processing for those affected by dementia and whose complex speech patterns have been affected. One of the reasons it is ideal for those living with dementia is because it allows for the processing of information that removes the cognitive overlay and emphasizes sensation alone. All of the senses can be stimulated such as smell, taste and touch which require little interpretation. Often those affected by dementia are very tactile gravitating toward different textures in their environment- whether found in the fabric of clothing, or the smoothness of the petals of a flower. Also, when a person may have impaired vision or hearing, this can cause lessened interest in ones environment – therefore media that stimulates two senses simultaneously can be engaging for those with reduced sensory abilities.
What is wonderful about multi-sensory work is that it stimulates, evoking memories as well as links to a person’s past identity. Connections are made through these links as well as a sense of belonging—maintaining connection is an essential component to well being in dementia care. There are many types of sensory stimulation which range from day to day activities to art making. Aromatherapy, handling objects to experience their texture or smell or using a pen to write or a paint bush to paint, tasting, hearing noises or listening to music and engagement with light (movies) or movement whether it is walking, dance, exercise or yoga. Looking at pictures and engaging in visual observations of movement and color is a wonderful way to derive pleasure and engagement.
Sensory objects can be used with art making which releases meaning. Meaning can emerge with the smallest piece of art work—and the sensory aspect is important as the sensory feeling may bring about ideas in the artist that have yet to emerge.
Intellect and cognition are involved in the creation of art and may enhance art understanding— to be understood at the most basic level art relies on the language of the senses. “The primal response to creative communication remans intact in those with dementia even when memory, language and cognition are impaired.” (socialworktoday.com) . Therefore creative therapies are more than useful but help focus on the abilities that are retained — not what they have lost.
Expressive and creative arts therapies encompass a few disciplines ranging from art, music, dance/movement and drama therapies. What’s more is “ Art therapy can range from insight based support groups to those with early stage dementia or mild cognitive impairment to nonverbal sensory based interventions for those in the advanced stages of dementia” according to Theresa Dewey, an Art Therapist who works at the Lieberman Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Skokie, Illinois. Treatment of art therapy goals vary from managing depression to anxiety to increased engagement and enhanced communication and, for those with severe dementia, increased sensory awareness and connection to others. These therapies enhance the quality of life; that is their main goal.
Therapy types tailored to individual interests and abilities will work best. Music, dance and drumming are particularly effective because cognitive deficits are no barrier to participation. Ultimately the modality that is best is the one the client responds to—especially the ones that bypass deficits and highlight abilities. Also there is an argument that combining different therapies works best. “There is some good evidence that the available therapies might work best in combination – for example, art therapy plus music and dance, or, within an art therapy session, combining creative writing and poetry, or a drama therapy session that makes use of the spoken word, art and music in concert.” (www.alzheimers.net)
Art Therapy awakens patients in cognitive decline by allowing brain to navigate a new communication path to creativity. It can inspire a senior with limited speech to use a paintbrush to communicate which, in the process, opens up neural pathways, drawing from parts of the brain that don’t engage language. It can also lessen aggressive behavior by providing an outlet. Although art won’t eliminate the illness it can stimulate the brain in a new way and can bring creativity and joy which can make a great difference to loved one who has been in decline. Engaging in arts classes where creativity is emphasized also engenders a sense of accomplishment and boosts self esteem as well as social interaction. Visual art can even trigger dormant memories and emotions inspiring conversations among patients who often struggle to express themselves. Especially when they create art themselves, this activity stimulates the whole brain.
It enhances communication, brain function, social interaction, sensory stimulation, tactile processing as well as meaning-making, hand/eye coordination, finger and hand strength, and imagination. It an be combined with OT exercises for finger and hand strength as well as flexibility. Emphasis can be placed on sensory processing and how it resonates with individual. Finger painting as opposed to using a paintbrush can be explored, as can dropping paint onto wet paper allowing it to transform into something; sculpting and clay work emphasizes tactile qualities too.
Please be sure to check our listings for PRACTITIONERS who can help. They are listed under Therapeutic & Artistic Practitioners under the NY Resources & Professionals tab on our home page or click right here: https://lewybodyresourcecenter.org/ny-resources-professionals/therapeutic-artistic-practitioners/