The Healing Power Of Art

By Sharon Naylor

November 12, 2013 6 min read

"Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life." -- Pablo Picasso

As we age, we accumulate a lot of "dust," in the form of stress, age-related aches and pains, memory loss, grief, loneliness and any number of unpleasant aspects of time marching on. Art can certainly be a very cleansing hobby that heals and lifts our spirits.

"Art therapy is becoming more common as more people are discovering the benefits of the practice for seniors. In fact, many caregivers are incorporating art into their routines as they provide companion care for seniors who still live at home. Art therapy has been found to contribute to the well-being of seniors as they find more value in life and new ways to enjoy it," says Kerith Glass, art therapy expert at Expressions Art Therapy.

When art becomes a regular creative outlet for baby boomers and seniors, the beneficial results include relaxation, relief of anxiety, a way to cope with transition, lessening or avoidance of depression, relief from physical pain, increased dexterity and an outlet for dealing with medical issues.

Art projects or art therapy can be beneficial to seniors suffering from arthritis and other painful conditions. Doctors may recommend gentle movements and keeping a range of motion and flexibility in joints. Artistic hobbies like needlepoint and crocheting projects can help aging hands that are starting to ache from arthritis. Using soft materials, such as yarn and felt, is soothing and aids in pain relief.

Seniors with dementia or Alzheimer's disease often feel like they have no control, so drawing or painting can provide a new sense of control in the opportunity to make whatever decisions they choose regarding the direction of their artwork. Their artwork frees them from the bonds of their cognitive issues. This is especially uplifting to the many seniors dealing with dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the number of Americans who are 65 and older with Alzheimer's is expected to nearly triple by 2050: 13.8 million from the current 5 million. If dementia can be held at bay for several years through healthy activities like art, an extra half-decade of quality of life can be enjoyed by a senior and by everyone who loves that person. Some dementia patients even say that art projects such as painting help with the recovery of memory.

Another benefit of art as a hobby is creating an outlet by which a senior can express his or her feelings and fears. Through art, they can more easily communicate these emotions to their families and caregivers, or just get their worries and fears out of their heads and safely onto paper, so they can let go of emotions that have a hold on them.

On a lighter note, being an artist may have long been a person's life goal, which they can now actualize. And reconnecting to a favorite hobby of their youth can lift a their spirits and awaken talents they forget they had.

Here are a few tips for adding artistic hobbies into your daily life, or into the lives of your parents or other loved ones you support:

--Choose from solo art projects like knitting or group art projects like working on a mural with other friends or residents of a retirement home. Some people work more comfortably on their own rather than as part of a group, so decide on this important factor, first.

--Designate a craft area where messes are welcome. Professional artists' workspaces are splattered with paint, clay and other mediums. A person with challenged dexterity needs to be able to make a mess or spill some paint without worrying about a ruined floor or you being angry about the disorder.

-- For starters, choose an easy craft that builds confidence, rather than a challenging project that will cause frustration, higher stress levels and anger. After that first success, it's more motivating to take on new craft projects and higher difficulty levels. Some early art choices include watercolor painting, clay sculpting, knitting, free-form painting, sketching landscapes and still lifes. Keep vision in mind, since diminished eyesight can make threading needles difficult, and a senior could be unwilling to ask for help. Avoid heating element art projects if a senior suffers from confusion or dementia. Plan to sit with your senior during art projects at first, joining in to justify your presence, so that your loved one doesn't feel like a child.

--Get safe, nontoxic art materials from the craft store, and choose pens with thicker barrels and grips suitable for arthritic hands.

--Compliment the art project, but don't over-praise with any condescension as if you were talking to a toddler. Many seniors are very self-conscious about this.

The experts at SeniorHomes.com say that art helps seniors adjust to their new surroundings. "Art therapy gives the new patient a chance to meet other patients to encourage socialization, which can decrease depression and provide a sense of hope and security."

Finally, remember that music is art as well -- listening to it as well as composing it. Tapping a foot to a beat increases circulation and songs can often bring back fond memories. Sharing musical choices with family members and friends fosters socialization, and music can make the soul soar. So, in addition to a project-creation art project, make an effort to bring the art of music into your or your loved senior's world.

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