The art of hospice
By Maggie Vescovich, SLP
Whether the activity involves putting brush to paper or assembling images into a collage, expression through the visual arts can powerfully improve the quality of life for those with terminal illness.
No artistic skill or talent is needed, and the rewards can be great. In a study conducted in 2012, 177 terminally ill cancer patients participated in art therapy. The sessions focused on fine art appreciation and hands-on painting. Each participant created at least two pieces of art, with landscapes being the most common scenes created. The study reported that at the end of art therapy, most patients noted feeling emotionally and physically better than prior to art therapy!
Studies with art therapy and Alzheimer’s patients have also shown promising results. Long-term memories are often best preserved for those with dementia. Memories of “the day we got married” or “when I went to college” often endure. These memories can find concrete expression by creating a college with a selected loved one to illustrate a story. The process of making a piece of art about one’s life harmonizes with the goals and principles of hospice, which stresses dignity and respect. Creating a story of one’s life through art encourages positive reflection, taking stock of that person’s contributions and legacies expressed in a safe and meaningful way.
“People are very surprised that people with dementia can create beautiful art”, says Dr. Dick-Muehike, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Family Service Center. “Every time you see someone’s mouth drop, is a time that you decrease the stigma of what it means to have Alzheimer’s disease”.
Studies with art therapy and hospice patients have also shown that art therapy provides opportunities for positive communication and interaction and can foster spiritual support, relaxation, and even help with pain.
Whether a hospice therapist helps your loved one create art or whether you work with your loved one on a collage, painting, or scrap book, the shared memories and new conversations will do a world of good. While there may be a difference between art therapy with a trained professional and the art experience a hospice caregiver can provide, there are benefits either way.