Art therapy activities for dementia
Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia benefit from creative activities like art and music. Music reduces agitation and boosts mood. Art projects give a sense of accomplishment and purpose and also allow seniors to express themselves non-verbally.
A specialized type of art therapy for dementia is called MnemeTherapy (pronounced “nemma” therapy). It combines art, song, and movement to stimulate the brain. MnemeTherapy can help older adults who have Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, brain trauma, stroke, MS, or other cognitive issues.
Using this combination of activities is thought to stimulate the brain to adapt and rebuild lost function by reorienting and remapping it. Some seniors who have done MnemeTherapy have shown significant improvement in verbal skills, mobility, and reduced combativeness.
See what a MnemeTherapy session is like
Evelyn is an 89 year old woman with Alzheimer’s disease. The home care agency who takes care of her offers specialized art therapy through their partnership with Paulette, a certified MnemeTherapy instructor. Evelyn enjoys weekly sessions with Paulette and gave us a peek into her experience.
Paulette visits Evelyn weekly in her home for one hour. They start the session sitting face-to-face. To warm up, Paulette takes Evelyn’s hands and swings them left to right as she leads her in the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” This activity is intended to stimulate word memory.
Then, she asks Evelyn to “high five” her with one hand and then the other, engaging her in a game of “patty cake.” Next, Paulette holds up two fingers and moves them from left to right asking her how many fingers she’s holding. She then flutters her fingers like a butterfly and asks Evelyn to capture it.
These might sound like random games, but according to MnemeTherapy principles, each session is tailored for the client’s specific cognitive or physical challenges.
Reminiscing and verbal skills
Paulette brings out a binder with different abstract images, both photographs and paintings, and asks Evelyn to describe them. Looking at a picture of the ocean and swaying palm trees, she asks Evelyn if the photo brings up any memories. Evelyn says it’s where she used to vacation with her family when her children were young.
Gentle assistance with painting
Next, Evelyn is encouraged to paint her own picture, with Paulette lightly guiding Evelyn’s hand. The results are beautiful and her paintings are displayed throughout the house. As a long-time art collector, Evelyn is very proud of her work.
Paulette says, “Anytime she has guests, she pulls out the scrapbook with her paintings. It gives her something to talk about and share with family, and her daughters (one of whom is an artist) have been very pleased. She’s proud of her work and she’s having fun.”
Here are some of Evelyn’s sessions with Paulette. This 2 minute video shows clips of one of their therapy sessions. It is a marketing video, but the first half is focused on Evelyn’s experience.
A lovely painting by a client working with a MnemeTherapy instructor
Benefits of MnemeTherapy
There are many immediate benefits from sharing art and music to actively engage seniors with dementia, but it’s not yet known if MnemeTherapy has lasting benefits.
There are many reasons seniors would show cognitive and behavioral improvement after this therapy:
- Enjoying the activity makes them feel happy and confident.
- Stimulating different muscles and mental connections through exercise, singing, and movement.
- Engaging in familiar activities in a new or different way.
- Feeling mentally stimulated by the act of painting.
Cost and class locations
MnemeTherapy is often offered through assisted living facilities or home care agencies, but many therapists also offer private sessions.
To find a certified Mneme therapist in your area, check the Art Without Boundaries member directory. Contact your local therapist to find out about cost and class offerings.
We support any activity that brings joy to older adults with cognitive impairments. If singing, movement, and painting can reduce agitation and boost mood and cognitive function, then it’s worth a try!
Even if you don’t work with a MnemeTherapy instructor, you can still use these concepts to create your own fun art activities with your older adult.
Next Steps > Find a MnemeTherapist in your area