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The Role of Creative Arts and Dementia

The Role of Creative Arts and Dementia

by Anne M. Chernin, MBA, MSW, Director of Client Services
JFCS of Southwest Florida

Last month I had the opportunity to travel to the University of Florida in Gainesville to participate in a seminar with colleagues who represented organizations that have all been fortunate enough to receive grants from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. During the three day training session we heard from experts on topics ranging from social media to how to respond to the press. The training provided us with a chance not only to sharpen skills, but to exchange ideas with colleagues, learn about each other’s programs and explore possible synergies.

JFCS of Southwest Florida received funding from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation to add art therapy to our Dementia Respite Support program. The JFCS Dementia Respite Support Program is an on-going program serving men and women age 60 plus with a medical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias who are in early to mid-stages of dementia living at home. The program offers weekly groups that focus on cognitive, communication and socialization skills. Since its start three years ago the JFCS Dementia Respite Support Program has filled a void in the community.

Art therapy brings a new dimension to the program. Visual art can trigger dormant memories and emotions, inspiring conversations among individuals who normally struggle to express themselves. With the addition of art therapy we are observing participants express themselves through art.  One of our participants John, is a 74 year old man who used to own a small appliance shop.  His wife told our staff that John loved to talk to the customers and that he was the life of the party on the weekends with friends. Last year John was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Since then John has become less communicative and more isolative. Recently while participating in an art therapy project which focused on identifying events that were life changing John began looking at pictures in magazines which sparked memories for him. Using the pictures he made a timeline of events including his wedding and the birth of his children. John was able then to share the importance of these events with the group. More importantly, John wanted to take his timeline home so he could talk to his wife about it and recall the events with her.

Jane is another participant whose daughter brings her every Monday and Friday to the group. She is a 90 year old woman who was diagnosed with dementia two years ago. A widow for almost twenty years, she is always quiet and reserved.  Jane rarely speaks during the group.  Recently during art therapy Jane needed assistance and guidance to understand the art project which centered on memories associated with home.  As Jane was looking at magazine pictures she suddenly said “That’s my father! He’s dancing. He had a dance studio!” The picture she had seen was of a man in a tuxedo tap dancing. Jane was able to make a collage about her father and share stories of him and the dance studio he owned. Suddenly Jane was talkative, smiling and engaged. When Jane’s daughter picked her up at the end of group Jane eagerly showed her the collage.  Her daughter said Jane talked all the way home about her father. We frequently hear similar stories from caregivers after their loved ones attend the dementia respite groups.

For more information about the Dementia Respite Support Program please contact JFCS at 239-325-4444.

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds.  Thanks to them, last year the Foundation invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community.  With assets of $106 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.  Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers.  For more information, visit or call 239-274-5900.





Carolyn Rogers
Carolyn Rogers