The benefit of creative expression for those with Alzheimer’s

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are over 520,000 people in the UK who are suffering from dementia resulting from Alzheimer’s disease, meaning that it is the county’s most common cause of dementia. Scientists still don’t know much about what causes Alzheimer’s, but when someone suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, the connections between the nerve cells in the brain are damaged and eventually lost, and that, with the fact that some of the brain’s `chemical messengers` are also lost, means that certain symptoms are then seen.

As Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, the symptoms get worse over time as increasing parts of the brain cease to work. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, difficulties with language, a reduction in the ability to problem solve and think. Although Alzheimer’s is often thought of being a disease that only affects older people, this is not the case. It can affect everyone, but it is certainly more common as we get older.

Creative Expression with Alzheimer’s Disease
There is more and more evidence to suggest that creative expression can be extremely beneficial for those who are suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the biggest problems for people with Alzheimer’s is that it is increasingly difficult for them to communicate with other people. And this is the main benefit of the arts and creative expression.

Art therapies and creative expression can include painting, drama, poetry, music, drawing and dance, and can give people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s another avenue to communicate which doesn’t include talking and writing. Dr Raquel Stephenson, Associate Professor at Lesley University, suggests that “where Alzheimer’s disease slammed shut the door of communication, art therapy opened up a new window.”

For people who are non-verbal, giving them a channel to communicate with other people can be extremely valuable. This might be an expression of what they are feeling now, something that has happened in the past, how they are feeling about something that can happen in the future or just general feelings.

By being able to understand better about people’s behaviour and feelings, we can begin to improve their quality of life and resolve any issues that they might have – being extremely valuable for both carers but also families.

Community and Isolation
One of the biggest issues for both people as we get older, as well as those with Alzheimer’s disease, is loneliness and isolation. As we get older, we lose more and more of our peers, spouses and friends, and that coupled with the fact that we are generally less mobile, means that social opportunities are often fewer. For someone with Alzheimer’s disease, difficulties with communication can make this situation even worse.

By taking part in creative expression activities, people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s can interact in a non-verbal way with other people, helping to improve not only quality of life, but also social connection, motivation and self-esteem. This can also build up a sense of community and trust between those taking part.

Living in the present
The act of expressing yourself and how you are feeling now is a great way to live in the present and not have to think about the past or the future. This can prove to be very valuable to older people, especially those who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. By reducing the need to remember things, people with Alzheimer’s can take the stress off having to remember and connect with the present.

Enhanced creative abilities
Recent studies have also shown that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease can actually have enhanced creative abilities. This is testament to how important creative expression can be to sufferers. In some cases, Alzheimer’s disease sufferers who have previously not really had creative skills – nor shown any interest in having them – have suddenly developed some. There is still no scientific explanation for this phenomenon, but it is thought that it is due to certain parts of the brain shutting down, meaning that other parts of the brain can shine.

Whether it is through painting, drawing, singing in a choir, dancing to old records, joining a drama group or doing pottery, it is clear that creative expression can be extremely valuable for people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It is not only beneficial for the people themselves, but also to their families and carers, through improvements to quality of life, a better understanding of how they are feeling – giving opportunities to resolve issues – and also helping to battle loneliness and isolation.

Got a question about Alzheimer’s and dementia? Join the Alzheimer’s Support Community on HealthUnlocked, dedicated to providing evidence-based information on memory loss causes, and early-stage Alzheimer’s & dementia. 

Ella Hendrix

Written by Ella Hendrix
Ella is a versatile freelance writer, currently covering topics on family wellbeing, ageing matters and activities for the elderly.

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