Seniors' creativity can thrive despite dementia

September 4, 2012 by Amanda Gardner, Healthday Reporter
Seniors' creativity can thrive despite dementia
Programs seek to inspire artistry, reduce isolation in these older adults

(HealthDay)—No one thought Sherry S., a 91-year-old former sociologist with dementia-related short-term memory loss, could write.

But one Wednesday afternoon, Sherry wandered into a writing workshop at a community center in Albuquerque, N.M., and proceeded to astonish the group with her story about Homer the Artistic Turtle.

"Although [Homer] is not required to be cheerful, he tries to be interesting partly because who wants an uninteresting turtle?" Sherry wrote, adding that Homer clearly was "artistic and color-conscious" because "he prefers green lettuce with purple coloring on the sides."

Homer was also a writer, having penned a book on turtle senior living. "He should be well known in his field, which is not very crowded," Sherry wrote. "There is an unfortunate lack of interest in turtle well-being."

The writing surprised Sherry's daughter, Scott Sandlin.

"She's always been a good writer, but it's interesting to me that she's retained that skill even while other parts of memory diminish," Sandlin said.

But the feat likely would not have surprised Anne Basting, who is director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Basting has pioneered writing and other arts programs for people living with dementia.

"People look at dementia as loss and deficit. They never assume people with dementia can grow or learn anything [but] that's what we're witnessing: growth and expression and skill-building," she said.

"[Humans] have this enormous capacity to learn, and the arts are so intrinsic within us that even with dementia we still retain that ability for imagination and creativity," added Gay Hanna, executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging, in Washington, D.C.

With inevitably progressing toward old age and sometimes dementia as well, there is a growing need and a growing push for programs that can give meaning to a senior citizen's life as well as reduce strain on the .

It's not just writing programs and storytelling but also dance, music and painting, each of which provides its own particular benefit.

Writing, for instance, allows the person with dementia to bypass the world of traditional language, where they may not get the right word at the right time, and slip into their own world of metaphor, Basting explained.

"It's a benefit to us all because we learn to see the world differently," she said.

Dance, drama and singing are all very physical, and so have an impact on physical health, added Hanna.

All of these forms of artistic expression foster a sense of community, and may even slow the progression of the disease by breaking through the isolation that can quicken decline.

"People always [want to know if] this improves cognitive functioning [but] why would there be an expectation that arts should do this or that?" said Basting, who is author of the book, "Forget Memory." She added, "There are basic improvements in well-being, a sense of belonging, a sense of self, a sense of mastery and skill-building and growing in the moment... We're improving quality of life as long as possible. That's pretty significant."

Basting said she's received inquiries about senior-oriented arts programming from such diverse sources as firefighters in Alabama who want to engage positively with people with , to museum education programs that want to continue to serve their aging membership.

"We understand that the first impulse is to go with medicine, [but] communities are now starting to respond," she said.

Explore further: Cognitive stimulation beneficial in dementia

More information: Visit the National Center for Creative Aging for more on imaginative programs for seniors.


Related Stories

Cognitive stimulation beneficial in dementia

February 15, 2012
Cognitive stimulation therapies have beneficial effects on memory and thinking in people with dementia, according to a systematic review by Cochrane researchers. Despite concerns that cognitive improvements may not be matched ...

Attitude towards age increases risk of dementia diagnosis

June 11, 2012
Our attitude towards our age has a massive impact on the likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia. New research shows that when seniors see themselves as 'older' their performance on a standard dementia screening test ...

People with dementia less likely to return home after stroke

October 31, 2011
New research shows people with dementia who have a stroke are more likely to become disabled and not return home compared to people who didn't have dementia at the time they had a stroke. The study is published in the November ...

Recommended for you

Dementia study sheds light on how damage spreads through brain

November 20, 2017
Insights into how a key chemical disrupts brain cells in a common type of dementia have been revealed by scientists.

Researchers describe new biology of Alzheimer's disease

November 20, 2017
In a new study, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) describe a unique model for the biology of Alzheimer's disease (AD) which may lead to an entirely novel approach for treating the disease. The findings ...

Study shows video games could cut dementia risk in seniors

November 16, 2017
Could playing video games help keep the brain agile as we age?

New player in Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis identified

November 14, 2017
Scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have shown that a protein called membralin is critical for keeping Alzheimer's disease pathology in check. The study, published in Nature Communications, ...

Biomarker may predict early Alzheimer's disease

November 10, 2017
Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have identified a peptide that could lead to the early detection of Alzheimer's disease (AD). The discovery, published in Nature Communications, may ...

Smell test challenge suggests clinical benefit for some before development of Alzheimer's

November 10, 2017
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) may have discovered a way to use a patient's sense of smell to treat Alzheimer's disease before it ever develops. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.