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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

Finding Joy and Connection Through the Creative Arts in Dementia Care

Caring for a loved one with dementia is an emotional journey filled with ups and downs. It's a path marked by moments of confusion, frustration, and heartache. But it's also a journey where you can discover incredible sources of joy, connection, and relief. One such source is the world of creative arts. I want to share the amazing power of creative arts in dementia care, drawing from my experiences and the invaluable research behind them. When discussing creative arts, we refer to various imaginative activities like music, visual arts, dance, crafting, and theater. These activities have a unique quality—they engage our senses and require minimal cognitive skills for meaningful engagement. This unique characteristic makes them a perfect fit for individuals living with dementia. Let me start by sharing a personal story. I vividly remember the day my mom, who hadn't spoken in months, started singing and engaging in a conversation as we played her favorite Big Band music. A song by Sarah Vaughn came on. It was like a ray of light breaking through the darkness. She said brightly, "That's Sarah Vaughn and started singing along with her. That's the magic of music in dementia care. Research supports what I witnessed firsthand—music has the power to mitigate disruptive behaviors, retrieve memories, and, perhaps even more importantly, provide immense joy. The creative arts go beyond music, and they hold the potential to create beautiful moments even in the midst of cognitive decline. Let me share some of my personal stories from my experiences:

1. Finger Painting Delight: One day, we rolled up my mom's sleeves and placed fingerpaints in front of her. The result was nothing short of magical. She giggled like a child as she swirled colors on the paper, expressing herself in ways words couldn't capture. 2. A Hymn from the Past: My father-in-law, who rarely spoke and no longer recognized his family, surprised us during a church visit. He started chanting hymns from his church days, connecting with a part of himself that had seemed lost. 3. Dance and Memories: Then, my dear husband Joe could no longer read a calendar. But every Thursday night, like clockwork, he'd remind me that it was time to head to the Taverna for Greek dancing. His spirit lit up as he danced and celebrated life until the last Thursday before his passing.

So, how can you tap into this powerful intervention? Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Discover Their Preferences: Understand your loved one's interests and preferences. What type of music did they enjoy? Did they have a favorite hobby or art form? Start there, but don't end there. Continually offer new art forms, even if they have never been artistic. 2. Create a Supportive Environment: Set the stage for creative arts activities. Ensure the space is comfortable and familiar and have the necessary materials ready. Leave fun items like a drum, funny hats, crayons, and paper out and inviting. Make it a safe and inviting space. 3. Encourage Participation: Be patient and encouraging. Sometimes, it takes time for a person to warm up to an activity. Offer gentle guidance and support while allowing them to take the lead. 4. Share the Experience: Join in the creative activities with your loved one. It's not just about providing care; it's about creating shared moments that strengthen your connection. 5. Flexibility is Key: Understand that some days will be better than others. Be flexible and adapt activities to their current abilities and mood.

The journey of dementia care is both complex and beautiful. It's a journey that teaches us the incredible power of creativity and the human spirit's resilience. By embracing the creative arts through personalized music, puppet shows, percussion instruments, or virtual museum trips, we can create moments of joy, connection, and comfort for our loved ones. Remember, in the world of creative arts, there's always room for one more masterpiece—created not on canvas, but in the hearts and memories of your loved ones.

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