Josephina about her work as Art Therapist
It is with immense pleasure that I work as art therapist at the QAGOMA in the Art and Dementia program. I work with Debbie Brittain, the QAGOMA Project Officer to develop a specially designed therapeutic activity that dementia research suggests benefits cognition through further communication and socialisation. Regions of the brain responsible for supporting executive function and communication are activated during art making, which increases language and problem solving abilities and enhances participant mood and their sense of independence.
In my personal experience working with people living with dementia in the different phases of the illness, the art-making creates a moment of connection. A connection between the participants around the table who in their daily life may never talk to each other although they live in close quarters together. And also – maybe even more importantly – a connection with themselves!
I have witnessed that the illness in the brain takes away the ‘personal command center’. The person doesn’t know anymore where/who he/she is or what their hand is doing. The communication between the brain and the hand for instance can be lacking.
The sensory aspect of the art-making (holding a paintbrush, looking at paintings, touching paper, singing, listening to music) seems to be waking up the creative part of the brain. As a consequence, the communication between that part of the brain and the hand is stimulated.
The effect is that the person seems to be experiencing themselves as a whole again, which gives a sense of self-worth and unique qualities. The outer reflection visible and audible to the outside world (for me, for the staff of the nursing home, for family members) is ‘joy’ – “that was so much fun!”.