People with dementia at a care home in Llangollen are using meditation to unlock their artistic talents in an exciting new art therapy project.
The ‘Try Something New’ sessions, organised by Alzheimer’s Society in Conwy and Denbighshire, are being held at the Abbey Dingle Care Home, a member of Care Forum Wales which promotes the value of the arts in social care.
The aim is to boost the health and wellbeing of residents and other members of the community and to support residents who have dementia.
Senior carer Hayley Reeves came up with the idea after taking two residents to a Lost in Arts project at St Collen’s in Llangollen last December was run by Denbighshire Arts Services in partnership with the Alzhiemer’s Society.
The residents’ enjoyed their experiences so much that she decided to offer a six-week course on-site at Abbey Dingle.
“We have around ten regulars aged from about 85 upwards,” said Hayley, who has worked at the care home for the past 15 years.
“The residents really enjoy it. It’s an easy activity for them to take part in and it’s not too strenuous.
“The art therapy is great for interaction, socialising and reminiscing. We find the residents are really calm after the session and they thoroughly enjoy it.
“It really surprised me how well and quickly they took to it.”
There is growing support for the idea that painting and other creative art skills can enhance the wellbeing of people with dementia by improving mood, reducing depression and anxiety, promoting social interaction and stimulating memory.
The classes have been taking place every Wednesday afternoon since late January and have drawn visitors from outside the immediate area.
“We’re had an elderly lady from Rhyl coming along and a husband and wife from Llangollen,” said the 41-year-old who lives in Chirk.
“We find that an hour is enough before we have a break for tea and biscuits.
“During this course the participants have learned all about colours and their meanings. They do a small meditation session initially and I was amazed at how much they remembered from their lives.
“The residents then apply different textures and materials to card to form a collage. One of the ladies has a daughter who’s an artist and was really surprised at how creative she was herself.”
Colour therapist Sue Hall, who has been teaching art therapy for 15 years, said each session begins with a short guided visualisation in which participants are able to explore the colour theme of the week.
“One week we visualised a picnic in the sand and another we went on a walk through the park,” she said.
“They take a big deep breath and relax and allow themselves to be guided along.
We then provide them with the corresponding colour essential oils so they can smell them. It’s amazing what they remember from the meditation and different memories from their past.
“Afterwards, they get stuck in with all the coloured materials and glue. There’s so much focus when they’re working, it’s really good to see.”
Carole Waterworth, Group Coordinator for Alzheimer’s Society in Conwy and Denbighshire said; “Just because someone has received a diagnosis of dementia it shouldn’t mean that they no longer have the opportunity to acquire new skills and share in new experiences, including our new exercise and craft groups. We want to support people with dementia to get involved with different activities in their local communities.
“As the population ages, we all face the risk of one day developing the condition. We hope that the ‘Try Something New’ project will increase public awareness of dementia and give people a better understanding of the condition; reducing the stigma.
One of the female participants is partially-sighted but has still been able to explore her creative side through touching and feeling the textures of the materials.
“It has been hugely beneficial to her and she’s presented some really good work,” Hayley explained.
“This lady has already had the opportunity of having some of her work displayed in an exhibition following the last church-based project and is definitely benefitting from the therapy.
“The outcome has been really positive for everybody involved and we’re keen to hold a similar event later in the year, perhaps under a gardening or flower theme.
“As with everything, these kinds of activities come down to funding but thankfully we were able to work in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society, the use of a room is free and the tutor has been came via the Try Something New Project.
“I’m so glad the project turned out the way it has and I’m hoping to do lots more in the future.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said: “This is an innovative project that is helping to enrich the lives of people living with dementia.
“The arts are able to reach people and inspire creativity which is a life-enhancing joy.
“Another benefit is that the arts also greatly assists the development of the social care workforce in understanding the value of enriching people’s lives.
“Care Forum Wales has been promoting the value of the arts within social care for a long time and this project is a fantastic example of why it is so worthwhile.”