This presentation aims to discuss the value of art therapy for people with dementia and psychological needs, whose communication channels are inhibited. The importance of this work is highlighted through the case study of a 72 year old artist with Lewy Body dementia who had been clinically depressed since diagnosed with dementia.
The patient engaged in Art Therapy in a hospice for 18 months. Therapy goals were to help come to terms with the loss of technical art skills and explore changes in his identity as an artist, and to facilitate art as a language of communication. “Active” art-making was encouraged utilising the remaining skills of the artist and “receptive” art-viewing of late works by Matisse and de Kooning (who also changed their artistic styles as they were affected by illness). As the patient began to move from his depression and discover a new meaning in his art making, he requested to have a final exhibition as a culmination of his pre and post-illness artwork which the hospice happily hosted. He titled the exhibition “Hell-a-bration” to reflect the complications of his illness. His wife confirmed improvement in his confidence and mood which in turn made her feel supported (she was also being supported through counselling sessions). A deterioration in his illness meant that he then began to experience visual and auditory hallucinations which he found threatening. These were depicted in his art making which helped him gain some control over an otherwise uncontrollable situation.
Sometimes it is felt that dementia patients are no longer receptive to psychological treatment; this poses the danger of neglect of their emotional needs. There is clear evidence that art therapy can be of positive and durable benefit to their well-being. Even though it might take time for the outcomes to become evident, it is important to allow patients to find their pace in therapy.
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