Creative Arts Therapist on Your Dementia Care Team?

Artful Approach, Caregiver's Journey, Dementia Compass

On a Tuesday afternoon, I was going around the halls of an assisted living community inviting people to a program I was about to lead. There was a gentleman there who I always looked forward to saying hi to, knowing quite frequently he would turn down my invitation but enjoyed a brief visit. On this particular afternoon, as I knocked on his door and saw him sitting in his chair, I could see he was waking up from a nap. He looked distressed as I greeted him. The world I walked into that afternoon was that of a battlefield. This man, who had dementia, was reliving his time at war. I could see the trauma in his eyes, the fear in his hands.

At a jewelry store in town, I met a woman whose mother had dementia. Once she learned that I worked with this population she shared moments when her mom would go off into these worlds and she didn’t know what to do. She learned not to fight her mother, but she no longer felt she could connect with her mom whom she loved deeply. She could feel their lives separating.

While leaving a skilled care community I stopped to talk with a family member of a resident who recently passed away after living with dementia for several years. She shared with me no longer knew who she was and struggled to see life without spending each day visiting mom. She feared what daily life would become and the impact this would have on her relationships.

These are common stories one might hear when living with dementia.

We all possess the ability to enter into the world of someone with dementia. We all are able to sit and listen to the stories we share with each other. We all are capable of walking with another person through their struggles. This takes no special skill, no extra training, no letters behind our name. But, what would the impact be like if we invited someone with a little extra training and skills into the picture? What if we invited a Creative Arts Therapist to take a seat on our care team, joining the geriatricians, general practice doctors, elder law attorneys, financial advisors, social workers, pharmacists, nurses, priests or other religious, neurologists, and a selection of family members?

This week is Creative Arts Therapies week. It is a week where all of the fields within the Creative Art Therapies take extra time to promote the work they do in our community and share with us the role they might play in our lives. This includes Music Therapists, Art Therapists, Drama Therapists, Dance/Movement Therapists. They are individuals with special training to combine the already known power of the arts with a skillfully directed therapeutic practice. Their current role in dementia care is often that of Glorified Life Enrichment Specialist, and that may be at times the role they play, but it can be greater than that. They can sit with those who might be reliving a trauma, are struggling with the loss of a husband or their home, a diagnosis. They can support the amazing artist that come into our communities to lead programs based on the visual, performing and written arts. They can show us how to enter the world of our loved ones with dementia. They can aid us in healing during and after our dementia journey. And, they can be the bridge between the medical and non-medical side of caregiving.

Each field within the creative arts therapies can play a special role in our care, for we each have our own connection to one specific art form over another. They can partner with artists, physical therapists, nurses, and doctors to help increase the quality of care and daily living. Frequently I hear concerns about inviting arts therapist into the picture, they say they already have artist providing art therapy yet these individuals frequently are not art therapists, but an artist using the arts in a therapeutic way. (There is a difference that would be a conversation for another time.) Or they feel that the world the of our care communities is already too medicalized and having a creative arts therapist involved would be adding to the medical world. While I agree that we don’t need a creative arts therapist to be able to benefit from the arts and that our care communities lean too far into the medical realm there is still a seat at the table for these specific fields. What a creative arts therapist provides is not more of the same, but something that can partner with programs and with individuals that might need more than the basic elements of the arts. They can add a depth to the care provided. A creative arts therapist can help the families learn how to communicate and transition into this new chapter of the relationship with their loved one, and, once the time has come, help them heal and rediscover their own life once the role of caregiver has been taken away. They can sit with our care community staff and help them navigate their job and minimize the burnout and depression that comes from working with loss day in and day out.

Use the arts with your loved one and for yourself. Find moments of joy, creativity, and satisfaction and growth through the arts, then I invite you to think about the creative arts therapies. Consider opening up a spot on the care team for a Creative Arts Therapist both for your loved one and for yourself. You might be amazed at how they can help you during this time and how we have been limiting the impact they can have on those living with dementia. What has been shared above is just a peek into what is possible.

To learn more about the Creative Arts Therapies and to find a Creative Arts Therapist in your area (credentials to look for):

Drama Therapy   (RDT or RDT-BCT)

Music Therapy  (MT-BC)

Art Therapy   (ATR or ATR-BC)

Dance Therapy    (R-DMT-BC-DMT)



A Bluetiful Life Continued

Artful Approach, Caregiver's Journey

Allison Lazicky from Tom-Notch Teams (the same Allison I did a post for in January about Life is Bluetiful) recently had me on her podcast, Bluetiful…Celebrating Kindness Leaders, produced by the Whole Care Network. It was a first for me, and hopefully the first of many. This podcast is, as the title informs, about Kindness Leaders. What is a Kindness Leader? Allison, through her conversations, answers that question and shows us that they are the very people we spend our day with at work, at home, and in our community. They are the individuals that take their triumphs and trials and use them as a way to transform how they care for others, and by doing so, give us all examples of how to better live in community with each other. Each person shares how they find the bluetiful in everyday life.

During our episode, I speak about TimeSlips and how it has become a launching point to further creativity and relationship development. (I will allow you to listen to the episode to learn more. Follow up questions are encouraged.)

After replaying what was said in my mind a few times, I walked away from this experience wondering, how am I a Kindness Leader? This is not something I label myself as or a role I thought I played. I found myself asking, what is the full depth and width of this role mean to me and the people in my life? What I came up with was this, I see it as another form of being a Beautiful Soul. A beautiful (or bluetiful) soul is one who has gone through the deep trials of life and has come out filled with a light and a spirit far beyond previously imaginable. One that can help guide and inspire others. One that can support and stand with those they love and care for, encouraging beauty and joy, and willing the good of all those they encounter. While I don’t know if I would label myself as a beautiful soul, I would accept the role of Kindness Leader. I have undeniably lived through many things that have hopefully transformed me into becoming a better care partner, a more creative care partner, and someone people know they can come to during triumphs and trials. In my Bluetiful blog post for Allison, and again mentioned in our conversation, I talk about how life is Bluetiful when we are seen and heard for who we truly are and want to become. Individuals that are capable of seeing and hearing this are Kindness Leaders. In my life I have had many kindness leaders guiding me along, standing next to me. Allison is one of them. Thank you, Allison! They have been teachers, parents and grandparents, great aunts and uncles, my brother, classmates, therapists, doctors, fellow employees, peers, church leaders, and dementia care pioneers.

When relating Kindness Leaders to dementia, in order for us to transform the way we think about, look at, and care for those who have dementia we need Kindness Leaders filling positions at every level of care and support. We need the CEOs of our care communities and companies to be Kindness Leaders. We need our charge nurses, care admissions team, medical staff, cleaning staff, activities teams, cooks, and building architects and designers to all be Kindness Leaders. We need individuals who have the wisdom and passion to transform our current care system by having the courage to ask, “What is our ideal care community? What is preventing us from reaching that ideal? What can we do to at least take a step towards that ideal care community?” Kindness Leaders are dreamers and doers. They are individuals who have a better view of the way we care for others than what is currently being exercised. It does not take extensive training or a lot of money. It simply takes a human being who wants the best for fellow human beings.

Thank you, Allison, for having me on your podcast.


To learn more about this podcast and Allison’s work visit the following links:

Top-Notch Teams:

Whole Care Network:

My Blog Post:

My Podcast Episode, Meaningful Life Enrichment in Care Communities Using the Arts:

Changing Our Negative View

Artful Approach, Faith Filled Journey

“If you are primed with negative attitudes about aging it turns out it has an impact on your health and well-being, on your risk of developing dementia, the first level of impact is on what you believe is possible.” -Dr. Bill Thomas

This was a quote from a Facebook Live session that happened a few weeks ago. Dr. Bill Thomas is, as he puts it, “the only living geriatrician on the internet” (which, side note is scary! We need more than 5,000 geriatricians in this country, and that is about how many we have) and he is a wonderful resource for us all. He got me thinking, how can we address this in a productive and impactful way? Of course, my mind went directly to the arts. Through art, we can transform the negative priming into a positive outlook. Through the way we tell stories, paint a picture, cast a play, and accept individuals into our orchestras, we can change the way our communities look at aging. By having those who are “old” participate in the arts and improving the way they are portrayed, we start a dialogue. By creating intergenerational creative projects we can experience first hand the joy, life, and meaning that can occur at all stages of life. If we start to write stories that are more than doom and gloom, we can lift the fear of aging. If we start to write stories that show life and not “living death,” we can see that joy that can be in each breath of life. If we start to write stories that don’t mock but show a full and authentic life, we start to see the reality of life’s progression.

We are starting to see a shift in this portrayal, if only at the moment just a glimmer. If you saw the new Disney movie, Coco that won 2 Academy Awards this past Sunday you might see what I am getting at. Instead of showing aging as something to mock or fear, they showed a beautiful connection between generations, and a moment where music helped connect a young boy to his great-great-grandmother in a powerful way. We need more of this in our movies, books, plays, TV shows, and artwork. This then must trickle down into our media, the news stations, the podcasts, then into our schools, community organizations, and importantly, into our own homes. We sometimes underestimate the power of what we see and hear as we listen to music, watch a movie, or listen to a news program has on how we look at and think about life.

Art can change the perspective, and encourage a change in dialogue, the language we use, and the portrayal of what it truly means to get older. It cannot do it alone though, I will be bold to say we need to also get rid of euthanasia, regardless of what we are telling ourselves, it is not a choice we are meant to have. We never know what we might be robbing ourselves of, or our communities if we support and participate in this act of murder/suicide. You all know I speak form the Catholic lens. So you had to know that this was coming. I do not abandon my faith when I enter into care, my job, my community, or when I leave the church. It is with me always. This may be polarizing, but it is an example of the boldness we need in how we address aging and care, and value of human life.

This post took a turn I didn’t plan on, but we cannot enjoy the light if we avoid the dark. Thank you for courageously reading this post with an open mind and heart. Art can change the negative priming we have about aging. Art can bring light to the darkness of aging. Art can inspire us to find joy. Art can change the way we think, but without the support of difficult moments, it remains unsupported. Therefore, we must be bold, dynamic, and engage in the community on the topic of aging.