By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT
In honor of Creative Arts Therapies Week (March 11-17), I am focusing this blog post on connecting creatively. Connection can be challenging when Alzheimer’s is in the picture. Traditional methods of communication are affected and it is often on the care partner, family, or healthcare staff to adapt and create meaningful moments of engagement. Connection is possible when approached in a creative way. Three important things to remember when connecting creatively are:
Think out of the box.
Don’t be afraid to try something new, “weird”, or “strange”. Let your imagination run wild. Think of yourself as a detective that needs to find a way “into” that person’s sphere of awareness and connection. It often takes unconventional methods to make that happen.
Do not make assumptions.
Just because your caree has never shown an interest in art or dancing doesn’t mean that they won’t now. Creativity increases as we age, even with cognitive difficulties.
If at first you do not succeed, try try again.
You might try something once and it could be successful, but the next time you try it, it might flop, or vice versa. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it again. Individuals with Alzheimer’s, just like the rest of us, have the capacity to change their minds, interests, and involvement. Keep that activity in your “toolbox” and bring it out again in the future.
Perhaps you feel that you lack creative interventions or do not even know where to begin. Here are 5 ways to enhance your connection creatively.
Turn on the radio, play a CD, or pull something up on your phone. Music is processed in the brain universally and therefore transcends the affects of dementia.
Try using props.
Balloons, scarves, even small hand held musical instruments are a wonderful way to engage and connect with your loved one.
Incorporate the senses.
Our sense of smell has the strongest connection to memory. Use scented candles, foods, or even aromatherapy to enhance reminiscing and communication. Remember that in addition to taste, sound, and sight, that touch is a powerful way to connect. Perhaps a nice hand or shoulder massage or simply holding someone’s hand can make all the difference.
Physical activity and exercise are important, but consider that simply shifting in your chair or bed can also help mood, outlook, and the ability to connect. Movement doesn’t have to be large, it just has to happen. Remember, if we don’t use it, we lose it!
“We don’t stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing!” Play is important for joy, connection, and staying young at heart. Find ways to laugh and be that kid that is screaming to get out and play. Perhaps a game of go fish, finger painting, or dressing up are just a few ideas to get you started. Making the play age appropriate is vital so as not to infantilize or demean the individual no matter how progressed they are in their disease.
Please keep in mind that connecting creatively is designed to normalize and restructure how we can relate and engage with our loved ones. This should not feel like another responsibility or chore. It is okay to make mistakes and learn as you go. Try something new. You might be surprised by the response.