Art Classes Provide Outlet For Creative Expression And Therapy For Seniors With Alzheimer's Or Dementia

By Lauren Witt, Forté Group, Inc.

While many people claim that they are not talented artistically or feel that they do not have the skill set to create artwork, Bridget Hinrichs, Life Enrichment Coordinator at Sagecrest Alzheimer’s Care Center at Baptist Retirement Community campus, likes to push residents to test their creative expression. She has found that many residents who do not believe that they are artistic actually have hidden talents that just needed a little prompting. Having learned that creative expression is beneficial for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia, Hinrichs decided to begin an art class for residents at Baptist Retirement Community and feels that the classes give residents a boost by showing them that they can accomplish something that they thought they couldn’t do. The art class is held for memory care residents every Thursday from 2:00 to 3:15 p.m. She now has a growing collection of artwork in her office and is preparing to showcase it all in an inspiring art exhibit.


 

“It is extraordinary to see a resident who has trouble speaking or communicating to any degree, walking or making any kind of physical movement in general, pick up a paintbrush and focus on creating vibrant pieces of artwork,” said Hinrichs. “For residents living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, this outlet is one of only a few ways that they can exercise expression, and the results are mind-boggling. Fellow team members, loved ones of the residents and I are extremely impressed with the quality and skill level they exhibit during the art classes. When the program first began, our group was small, but now it has grown to the point where we may need a bigger classroom or more than one class a week. I didn’t imagine it would become this popular, but I’m absolutely thrilled that it has taken off!”

 

At the start of the program, Hinrichs partnered with Laurel Dane, a volunteer artist from Angelo State University, and the two encouraged the residents to draw or paint whatever came to mind. Over time, they found that a more structured class yielded better results, and they began to work together to preplan the artwork and paintings that will be made during each session. Some of the residents still choose to draw freely, looking for inspiration in their surroundings or pulling simple memories from their lives. For many of the residents, the art class is a time for them to reminisce about the projects they used to create in school. It gets them thinking in a different way, and it engages them with their right brain.

 

“Baptist Retirement Community is really good about sending us to conferences that give us new ideas, educate us on the latest programs or provide guidance on being productive leaders,” said Hinrichs. “It was at one of these conferences that I learned more about the benefits of music therapy and art therapy. I came back to San Angelo feeling inspired and wanting to do something that incorporated creative expression for residents at Sagecrest Alzheimer’s Care Center, so I started a weekly art class. I have enjoyed seeing the residents benefit from the classes and have decided to lead workshops both locally and statewide to impact more seniors’ lives. I hope social workers, administrators, life enrichment coordinators and other attendees are just as inspired as I was and go back to their communities to initiate art therapy programs. “

 

Hinrichs is planning to continue leading art therapy workshops at future conferences and chapter meetings with life enrichment coordinators. At Sagecrest Alzheimer’s Care Center, part of the Baptist Retirement Community campus, Hinrichs meets with families once a week to personalize care plans and discuss which programs are working best for a family’s loved one. She has received a plethora of positive feedback about the art therapy classes. One resident’s son is impressed with his mother’s results and did not even know she was that creative. Another family visits their mother on Thursdays when the artwork class is happening so they can partake in it at the same time, sitting side by side and doing something together that they all enjoy.

 

“Looking ahead, I would love to get a pottery wheel,” said Hinrichs. “I have some residents who I think would be capable of making pottery and maybe accenting those pieces with mosaics. In the past, we have made pressed prints and acrylic paintings, worked with chalk paint and water colors, and melted Crayola crayons on canvases with blow dryers. There’s no limit to our creativity. For residents that are not as inclined to do the crafts, we have magazine puzzles that we have made in advance for them to do. These help challenge their minds as well. I share some pieces with their families and use others as examples at workshops. In addition, I put some on display in residents’ rooms, and I’m saving others for an inspiring art exhibit. It’s heartwarming to see that I’ve made a difference in their lives.”

 

“We are extremely fortunate to have leaders like Bridget, who take the initiative to develop beneficial programs for the residents, especially ones which their families can enjoy with them,” said Quinda Feil-Duncan, executive director of Baptist Retirement Community. “Once we open The Crest which includes our small homes that will be one Assisted Living and one Memory Care Assisted Living, we will look at expanding these classes as well, since they have been such a huge success. We are delighted that the leadership conferences have been such useful tools for continued learning and inspiration.”

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