Art always has a therapeutic component to professionals and amateurs alike. Some express their emotions through the strokes of a brush, and others use art to combat anxiety.
“The benefits of art therapy for elderly folks are extensive,” says Erika Ackerman, owner of Right at Home Hackettstown, New Jersey. “Art can provide them with creative expression and critical thinking skills, concrete goals to work toward each week, and a sense of fulfillment upon completion of a project.”
Ackerman has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Rutgers University and had a background in graphic design before becoming a caregiver. Prior to opening her own home care agency, Ackerman worked as an art therapist at senior centers. And that was when she found her calling in providing art therapy for seniors.
“Many people I’ve worked with had never created art before—they had been to museums or expressed interest in trying it out, but never really thought they had the talent,” says Ackerman. “Picking up art later in life seems to provide people with the sense that it’s never too late to accomplish a dream, and learning can happen at any point during your lifetime.”
Art Therapy Provides Relief From Chronic Conditions
For the seniors who are living with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and arthritis, or who are recovering from a stroke, art therapy can involve more than just painting. Joy Potter, a caregiver with Right at Home Ocean County, New Jersey and recipient of Right at Home, LLC’s 2016 Northeast Region Caregiver of the Year award, tailors art and activities for clients to their specific physical and cognitive abilities.
“Getting older is not easy for some people,” says Potter. “Many of them have trouble accepting help and feel like being homebound or having limited mobility is equivalent to dying. But making caregiving fun through different arts and crafts projects or activities brings happiness into their lives and gives them something to look forward to.”
Potter’s form of art therapy for seniors may seem unconventional since she doesn’t really use paints or pastels, but it still has a big impact on the lives of those in her care. So, together with the owner of Right at Home Ocean County, Darlene Bosco, they created a pilot program for seniors called “Fun with Friends.”
From coloring projects to foam art to puzzles and games, Potter and Bosco have found a way to bring different activities into the home of every client they serve. “What Joy has brought to Right at Home involves multiple activities—not just painting,” says Bosco. “Our ‘Fun with Friends’ program encourages all of our aides to go into a client’s home and find ways to personalize the art therapy component for their individual needs.”
Although the program is still in its early stages, Bosco and Potter have seen only positive results, including the creation of stronger bonds between caregivers and clients, and they plan to continue to expand the program in 2017.
Art Therapy for Seniors Is Fun and Informative
For Bosco and Potter, the intention behind “Fun with Friends” is to provide clients with the opportunity to discover more than just a new activity or hobby—they have the opportunity to also find friendship and forge connections.
“We’ve found that the program creates more connection and less isolation for our clients,” says Bosco. “So we’ve also started including technology in the program as well.”
While not traditionally thought of as art therapy for seniors, providing clients with the tools they need to utilize technology to help foster stronger connections with family and friends who don’t live nearby has been a transformative experience for many of the seniors. Once a bond has been formed between the caregiver and client, the client trusts the caregiver enough to help them learn how to use smartphones with video capabilities, and computers with social media tools like Facebook and Skype.
The outcome has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s been incredible to watch our clients feel confident about learning new things,” says Potter. “Giving them the technological tools to remain connected to friends and family whom they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see has brought many of them great joy, and none of that would have been possible without art therapy opening the door first.”
Hilary Young is a writer dedicated to helping older Americans live healthier, more fulfilling lives. She currently blogs for HuffPost50, Fifty Is The New Fifty and Medical Guardian. You can find her on Twitter as @hyoungcreative.