Creativity Thrives Even When Memory Fades

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia incite fear in us because it robs us of our memory, identity, and it is incurable. Currently there are about 47 million people living with dementia worldwide and this number is estimated to double every 20 years. Annually, it is estimated that there are about 10 million new cases of dementia diagnosis, which translates to 3 new diagnoses every second (ADI, 2015). In the US, the risk for developing dementia for 70-year old men who were born in 1920s is 26.9% and for women of the same cohort, it is 34.7% (Fishman, 2017).

We all know someone with dementia. Many of us are caregivers for someone with dementia. With better screening tools available, some of us may even be diagnosed with this condition. So, what can be done to live with dementia and not consider this phase of life as a “living death” or a “long good-bye”?

Engaging in the arts can reduce the risk of dementia (Roberts, 2015). The arts also gives people with dementia the opportunity to tap their imagination and express their creativity without having to rely on fading memories or declining mental faculties. Many studies have shown that creative engagement improves the well-being of people living with dementia.

Here are some well-established and evidence-based creative arts programs designed for people living with dementia.

The Opening Minds through Art or OMA program provides people living with dementia with the opportunity to create abstract art and build friendships with high school or college students paired with them on a weekly basis. The program is based at Miami University in Ohio and is offered at over 150 sites around North America.

TimeSlips is a creative story-telling program for people with dementia to create original stories based on enigmatic photographs. The program is based in Milwaukee, WI and has also been replicated in hundreds of locations in 15 countries.

Alzheimer’s Poetry Project or APP based in Brooklyn, NY, engages people with dementia to recite poems and create their own original poems.

Kairos Alive! based in Minneapolis, MN with programs around the country, provides dance and movement opportunities throughout the lifespan, including people with dementia.

Songwriting Works based in Port Townsend, WA engages people with dementia in the process of creating and performing original music.

The Meet Me at MoMA program provides people with dementia and their caregivers with the opportunity to appreciate modern art in a way that taps their imagination. There are online lessons available and look for a similar program in your local art museums.

For more programs like these, get the book “Forget Memory: Creating Better Lives for People with Dementia” by Anne Davis Basting.

The commonality among these programs is the fact that they all tap people’s imagination and provide opportunities for social connections. Both of which contribute positively to the well-being of people living with dementia. And they all have been replicated around the country, so chances are there is such a program available near you.

About the author
Elizabeth “Like” Lokon, MGS, Ph.D. is the founder and director of Opening Minds through Art (OMA), an intergenerational art program for people living with dementia. She works for Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University. As an artist, gerontologist, and educator, she frequently speaks on the intersection of the arts, dementia, and intergenerational service learning.