I have read many interesting articles on the use of art therapy, and the therapeutic and positive benefits gained through its use in activities, especially within dementia care. My favourite is by Jane Burns, who wrote a wonderful thesis on the use of art therapy within residential care. It's a huge body of work, but if you're interested and have the time I would recommend it!
As David Sheard once described it, when people lose their abilities to communicate or express their needs, when they can no longer rationalize their emotions, all they have left are their feelings as these never go away, so they try to speak using them. A creative activity, whether making something or simply looking at paintings, can be a wonderful tool for expression, the trick is to keep listening!
Today I would like to share my own experiences and ideas of using art in activities from my work within dementia care. I would like to begin by saying I am not a naturally gifted artist, but I have always enjoyed art and making things, even as a child I would be wandering around with my pockets bulging with paper, wool, crayons, etc., and I'm still like that today!
Putting together a creative activity, like arts and crafts, takes preparation, time and care. As an activity coordinator it is important that I get to know the people who will be taking part, as my aim is to bring about engagement...for instance did they once enjoy doing a craft or make things? What type of support will they need during the activity? Will I need to do a risk assessment depending on the people involved? Do I have some knowledge of the people from their biographies? All of these are very important questions and provide me with a good place to start before I begin designing the activity.
The next step is to find the right type of art and craft activity, as each person will have their own unique abilities. I need to design something that will hopefully create a level of interest, relaxation, occupation and fun! Also, my activity doesn't have to be goal orientated...if something happens then that's great, but even if it doesn't it's still great. Remember my aim was to bring about engagement, occupation, to promote expression and joy!
Painting: Painting is a great medium and can be adapted easily to suit all tastes and abilities. There are several ways I could use this activity:
One way would be to begin by setting our table with the materials we'll be using that day. That could include watercolour or plain painting paper, watercolour paints, coloured pencils, or paint brushes (I like using watercolour paints as I find the way the colours and shapes flow visually stimulating, but any type of drawing material will work). I always begin any activity by making myself 'present' with the people involved...this creates a sense of sharing, so if people want to help me set the table then it's always a big plus!
I often use images of shapes like butterflies, seasonal designs' or an image the person has drawn - they can then paint and decorate their painting in any way they choose.
Another idea would be to paint crafts, possibly something they have made like a birdbox, picture frame etc., as this activity is always good if you have a group of gentlemen who have spent their lives making or fixing things. Whilst I don't mean to sound gender specific, I've noticed there is a need for more male orientated activities.
Adult Colouring Books: I was introduced to this by a friend who works as an art therapist. They have apparently become very popular with busy executives who want to unwind after a busy day at the office!
These books can be bought from most major supermarkets and bookshops.
They are age appropriate and visually stimulating.
If you find you're on a tight budget' you may only need one book as the pictures can be easily photocopied.
They can be used either with a group or as a one-to-one activity.
Collages: My daughter and I enjoy making these at home...we sit together sorting through pictures, sharing stories and making memories together. It's a happy time for us and I want to try to apply that feeling to this activity.
As always I begin by showing people the materials we are using: It's best to start with a large piece of paper (I always use plain lining paper) as it's easy to cut to size. This is a group activity so I ask people what size they think might be best. Size is important as we are going to hang it up. You can include images, photos, fabric...in fact anything that has a meaning to someone. And of course, don't forget glue sticks!
Some people may want to sit with me during the activity, others may want to stand and observe the activity. Either way is fine.
The images and materials are always shared so people can choose which ones they would like to use (It's a good idea to always bring more than you think you'll need)
The images, photos, and fabric can be applied to the paper, then we could start talking about what we see!
If possible, invite family and friends to join in, remember I want to try to bring about a feeling of inclusion and belonging, the same feelings my daughter and I have when we do this.
Collages can be made to celebrate Saint days, the beginning of spring, Easter, Christmas, valentines day...in fact there are many themes you could use.
I always like to include music, whether playing in the background or listening to someone hum a tune!
These are many different types of art and craft activities we can use. If they are applied with care, empathy, and a good heart, they can bring about some magical moments of well being...