How Art Projects for Seniors Can Help Cognitive Health

Man painting in art class
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If there is one sentence artist Sherita Sparrow, ADPC, CDP, and owner of The Feather's Touch, hopes to eliminate from the thinking of residents in senior communities it’s, “I can’t even draw a straight line!” Sparrow is a firm believer that art projects for seniors can enhance their quality of life while helping them learn a new skill. Let's explore this further.

Her company, The Feather’s Touch, brings a professional artist to help residents of all skill levels, beginners to professionals, and all cognitive levels, independent through dementia, express their talents.

“The best part of the program is helping someone discover their inner artist. At times, there may be a person who is hesitant to start because they feel they are not artistic.” Sparrow continues, “By the end of the session, the once unsure individual is smiling with surprise at the art piece they produced.”

How the Feather's Touch Started

Sparrow's motivation came from her personal encounters as an art specialist.

“I had the opportunity to provide an art therapy session as part of an activities program, at a nursing home and had so much fun. I received such a reward from observing the smiles and excitement of seniors expressing their appreciation for helping them create an artistic piece.”

Sparrow’s observations of the benefits of art are backed up by the scientific research of Joseph LeDoux, a behavioral neuroscientist at New York University. He discovered new learning experiences boost the development and improve the information processing and memory storage in brains in mid-life and older.

Another study of the arts was conducted with the Levine School of Music in Washington DC. This looked at 300 seniors — half enrolled in an arts program once a week and a half not enrolled — over a two year period. The study reviewed the health and social functioning of the participants before, at one year, and at the end of the study.

Results of Arts Programs for Seniors Study

The results: those who attended the arts program had better health while those who did not attend saw their health deteriorate. In addition, the arts group used fewer medications, felt less depressed, was less lonely, had higher morale and was more socially active.

“Activity Directors should know that our therapeutic art program restores and maintains residents’ highest level of functionality, such as exercising their cognitive skills, dexterity, and concentration as well as allowing for social opportunities and memory enhancement,” Sparrow said. “The hour art session also becomes a great social event, filled with laughter and inspires memories of their past.”

There is another benefit. A woman who was able to continue her love of art in the nursing home recently passed away. At her funeral, her daughter thanked the art therapist for the last art piece created by her mom. A treasured gift.

In addition to working directly with residents, Sparrow also conducts educational workshops and courses tailored to the enhancement of the activity profession.

An effective activities program must include a variety of programs that meet the resident’s interests. That is an essential part of the culture change movement in nursing homes.

F-Tag 248 states that "the facility must provide for an ongoing program of activities designed to meet, in accordance with the comprehensive assessment, the interests and the physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident.”

The intent is that the facility identifies each resident's interests and needs and involves the resident in an ongoing program of activities that are designed to appeal to his or her interests and to enhance the resident's highest practicable level of physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being.​

An art program, whether in a group setting or one-on-one can not only help fulfill a requirement but also enhance the quality of life for residents.

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