Creative engagement is a big part of my late stage dementia program, for both cognitive stimulation, and to assist in the management of anxiety and agitation.
How is making art cognitively stimulating?
Two functionally specialised pathways are essential for the processing and production of visual information. 1. The ventral visual pathway is involved with recognising what we see (our internal visual representations of people, animals, and objects). 2. The dorsal stream, allows us to perceive where an item is located in space and to see a scene as a whole. We apply these functions when we look at a painting and when we organise the composition of an art piece and interpret spatial location and depth. Fine motor skills and dexterity: The cortical and sub cortical motor areas, along with the somatosensory pathways, are involved in skilful manipulation of art tools (pencils, pastels, paintbrushes.)
How does art and craft reduce agitation for people living with dementia?
Visual creativity can help people to maintain communication with others when other forms of cognitive functions are markedly impaired.
When people begin to make or paint, they can become so completely absorbed in the process that they enter a state of 'flow.' Flow is a term coined by Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, to describe a state of happiness. When in flow, the body does not have enough processing power to think about physical feelings, such as agitation, pain or negative emotions.
In addition to making people happier, making art activates many areas across the whole brain and so can foster the integration of emotional, cognitive, and sensory processes.
This is why creative engagement is such a useful tool for late stage dementia.