German therapists use art to help dementia patients
FRANKFURTJan 11, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Jan 11, 2016 12:00 am
Dieter is drawing a little man in the corner of his sheet of paper as his wife surrounds it with colorful, abstract shapes. Meanwhile, a woman places her mother Erna's hand in her own to get it moving, and when she releases it, the elderly lady continues painting orange circles on the paper by herself. Dieter, 76, Erna, 93, and Ingrid, 79, all suffering from dementia, are getting creative in a Frankfurt, Germany, studio – and making a contribution to a greater understanding of their condition at the same time. The geriatrics department at the city's university hospital aims to discover with the aid of 60 patients and their care workers whether art therapy and viewing art can advance dementia treatment. "One thing that can improve is the communication and the relationship between patient and care worker along with subjective well-being," said Arthur Schall, the head of the project.
There is also a positive impact on the symptoms associated with dementia. "Apathetic patients begin to move, and restless or aggressive patients become calmer," he said, while cautioning that alleviating the effects of dementia is not yet in the cards. The patients attend the museum sessions in small groups once a week for a guided tour and a workshop, each lasting an hour. The themes vary – the city of Frankfurt, family and children, still life, faces, the color blue and abstract art. This group – Dieter, Erna, Ingrid and Hanne – arrived at the end of the tour, at abstract art. Seated in front of paintings from the museum's Modern Art collection, they discussed the pictures with their care workers.
When I visited the group, the pairs of patients and their care workers were drawing fall and winter with pastels to the sounds of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." At the end, the pictures are hung on the wall and discussed. While it is clear that art cannot cure dementia, patients and care workers all say they have benefited from the experience. Erna's daughter reports that her mother is certainly tired after the day, but is awake and has a clear head the next day. The idea originated with a similar project at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). "When memory starts to break down, non-verbal communication can help people with mild to moderate dementia," said Johannes Pantel, director of geriatrics at Frankfurt's Goethe University. "We expect communicative abilities to be stimulated and enhanced, well-being and quality of life to be maintained and relations within the family stabilized," he said. Several studies have shown that music therapy can help with dementia, but there is a dearth of research investigating the contribution that art may be able to make on people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's.