Carl never really studied art, but that doesn’t hold him back these days from painting. Sometimes he paints for hours, over and over on the same tree, grass, sky or clouds. He is so engrossed that he rarely speaks and forgets to eat as well. His wife Barb just interrupts with the suggestion of a meal.  Because Carl is very confused now, it is much simpler to say “How would you like some meat loaf?” than “What would you like to eat Carl?” Giving a suggestion is so much more effective that expecting Carl to come up with an idea on his own.

Barb doesn’t want Carl to come out of that “place” he goes to when he paints. So Barb tries not to stress him with too many questions or choices. Participating in art is an opportunity to do something that is neither right or wrong. It just is, you may like it or not. This makes it a perfect activity for someone who is confused or has early dementia. You can’t be wrong.

Art nurtures the well-being of the confused elder, and in many cases brings to the elder a connection with the past. Over the years school districts have added or reduced art programs depending on the districts budget. But for the elders of today, they would have had some instruction in art in grade school.

Instead of this being a totally new experience the elder is really relearning a pleasant activity from the past. Relearning is so much easier for an elder, especially an elder who is also confused, than learning an activity that is brand new to them.

Painting doesn’t make Carl more appropriate in social situations, or in any way fit in better in group conversations. At a recent family event, as people were discussing an afghan someone had just made. Carl joined in with “that blue is in my picture.”  When the group knows what Carl’s challenges are, his observations are very much welcomed.

Virginia Garberding, R.N.

Director of Education, The Wealshire, Lincolnshire, Illinois

Author: Please Get To Know Me – Aging with Dignity and Relevance

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