Nearly 6 million Americans, more than 40,000 here in the Hudson Valley, suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Both affect memory, language, and thought and cause moments of disorientation, disconnection, and confusion for sufferers.
Therapeutic arts activities can help sufferers manage those symptoms and help them reconnect with the world. Studies show that art and music can help people with dementia communicate and feel more focused, creating a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Willow Gardens Memory Care at United Hebrew of New Rochelle strives to provide these experiences for its residents. As Westchester’s first nonprofit facility dedicated to Alzheimer’s and dementia care, Willow Gardens has included these activities as key elements of its philosophy of care.
As Alzheimer’s disease and dementias progress, language, logic, writing, and reasoning are impaired because of damage to brain cells. Arts therapy stimulates the brain creatively and provides non-verbal means of communication.
“Communication can be difficult for a person with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Nora O’Brien, Executive Director at Willow Gardens Memory Care. “Drawing, painting, or playing a musical instrument provides a way for them to share how they are feeling and express their emotions.”
Licensed and certified art therapists work with Willow Gardens residents on a variety of customized activities designed for physical, cognitive, and social stimulation. One example is collage work. Residents assemble images and words from magazines based on how they feel that moment, something they’re nostalgic about, or anything they’re interested in lately.
“What’s great about collages and other art therapy activities is that we can use them to help residents feel connected to their past,” notes O’Brien. “Our staff, all trained by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, work with family members closely to learn about our residents’ previous lives — their careers, hobbies, children, and community. That helps to spark conversation around what they are creating. We see the benefits in their smiles.”
The connection between music and memory is well-documented. Research shows that music can reduce the agitation associated with Alzheimer’s disease and the use of antipsychotic medication as a form of treatment.
Long an essential part of memory care at Willow Gardens, music helps those with Alzheimer’s and dementia manage their emotions, explains Grace Ferri, Chief Marketing Officer of United Hebrew at New Rochelle.
“Singing, playing chimes, or just listening to someone perform brings a sense of calm and enjoyment to our residents. It can be enjoyed in social settings or in one-on-one therapy sessions. Music provides another way to help our residents connect to their past and to the world around them.”
Additionally, Willow Gardens is a Music & Memory™ certified community. Staff are trained to work with resident families to create personalized playlists filled with music from their past, loaded onto MP3 players for individual use. For families looking for supportive memory care, that’s good news.
“All of the creative activities we offer are designed to help our residents keep their passions alive and experience the best possible quality of life,” says Ferri. “Our goal is to help our residents live in the moment and to continue to experience joy. The arts are a powerful way to do that.”
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