Engagement with the Arts Enhances Well-Being in Alzheimer’s Patients

Photo Credit: here:now art-making class. Photo by Lou Daprile

September is World Alzheimer’s Month. In order to support the mission of raising awareness and providing education about Alzheimer’s, the Aging Life Care Association will be publishing articles that discuss different aspects of the disease. You can learn more about World Alzheimer’s Month at https://www.worldalzmonth.org.

Engagement with the Arts Enhances Well-Being

By Lisa Mayfield, MA, LMHC, GMHS, CMC, Principal, Fellow Certified Care Manager

One recent afternoon in Seattle, a group of older adults gathered for iced tea, coffee and snacks in the café at the Frye Art Museum. Lively conversation ensued, like a gathering of old friends. Strummed on a guitar was a familiar tune. Carmen Ficarra, the musician and a teaching artist at the Frye, led them in song. It was joyful.

This gathering was of the Frye’s monthly Alzheimer’s Café, the newest of their Creative Aging Programs. Dementia-friendly programming at the museum is the innovation of Mary Jane Knecht, Manager, Creative Aging Programs, who along with her then-Director, Jill Rullkoetter. first proposed the concept nine years ago.

“Our goal from the beginning has been to reduce the feelings of isolation and stigma, which are often challenges for people who are living with dementia,” says Knecht. “We want the Frye to be a safe, supportive, and inspiring environment where participants can be social and feel welcome in a public place.

Creative Aging

The Frye’s first program — here:now — is an arts engagement program developed specifically for adults living with dementia and their care partners, where they can enjoy conversation, works of art, and artmaking in a supportive setting. The Frye also offers a quarterly film program – Meet Me at the Movies – where movie clips are shown, followed by facilitated audience discussion. Additionally, Knecht developed a program called Bridges, which brings art to the residences of individuals in the latter stages of dementia through one-on-one art discussion and art-making experiences.

The Museum is part of a larger collective of organizations known as Momentia Seattle, a “grassroots movement empowering persons with memory loss and their loved ones to remain connected and active in the community.” Momentia partners offer activities, programs and events including zoo and garden walks, talent shows, summer camps, field trips, improv, folk dancing, yoga, book clubs, and music, in addition to cafés and art classes.

The Arts are Transformative

In our work as Aging Life Care Professionals®, we believe in the transformative nature of arts and cultural engagement. We have seen this, when part of a care plan and tailored to each client, bring a new light through attendance at the theater, movies, concerts, and museums. An afternoon spent in an arts studio or getting social with new friends means someone is engaging socially, artistically, emotionally and mentally.

These arts and cultural experiences are an enriching, non-pharmacological approach that research shows can help improve mood, lessen anxiety and agitation, build relationships, make social connections, and improve overall quality of life for older adults living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

Most communities have some level of programming focused on arts for older adults, be it through senior or community centers, arts organizations, parks and recreation departments, churches, adult day centers, the Alzheimer’s Association or an Area Agency on Aging. There are also professionals such as recreational therapists and activities specialists who work directly with individuals.

How Can an Aging Life Care Professional® Help?

The responsibilities of taking care of your parent, spouse or family member can be very stressful. As Aging Life Care Professionals, we take a holistic, client-centered approach to caring for older adults or others facing ongoing health challenges. We help families navigate a path forward. Sometimes that path includes the arts and cultural engagement.

How do you know if you need an Aging Life Care Professional? Are you?:

  • Feeling both blessed and burdened helping your loved one?
  • At the end of your rope trying to balance the needs of your immediate family, a job and caring for an older loved one?
  • Concerned for your parents’ safety, well-being and independence, and it’s keeping you awake at night?
  • Noticing worrisome changes in your parent, contrary to what he or she tells you?
  • Living far from older family members and overwhelmed by caring for them long-distance?

Aging Life Care Professionals bring a positive outlook, years of experience, an objective perspective and responsive engagement to enable clarity, stability and a way ahead. Providing tools and resources to make informed choices, our guidance and expertise leads families to decisions and actions that ensure quality care and an optimal life for those they love, thus reducing worry, stress and time off of work for family caregivers. We are well-acquainted with programs, services and supports in our service areas and can help match your loved one with activities and events that will be fulfilling and contribute to their health and well-being.

To find an Aging Life Care Professional in your community that can help connect you and your loved one to service, supports and programs, please visit the Aging Life Care Association website at http://aginglifecare.org.

Lisa Mayfield, MA, LMHC, GMHS, CMC, is the founder of Aging Wisdom, a care management and consulting practice in Seattle, an Aging Life Care™ consulting, care management and creative engagement practice that strives to bring peace of mind to families by both directly improving the quality of life for aging family members, and by providing consultation and coaching services for their families. She is president-elect of the Aging Life Care Association and a Fellow Certified Care Manager.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.