The Benefits of Art for Seniors with Parkinson’s Disease

the benefits of art for seniors with parkinson's disease

Do you love someone with Parkinson’s disease? Art and music programs can provide a welcome relief and improvement for seniors with Parkinson’s disease. Senior centers and active living communities have always included art classes or seminars as an option for seniors to pass the time, or to learn a new hobby or skill set. However, over time, medical professionals have witnessed how the arts, including art, music, and theater, have seemed to improve the mindset and emotional health of their patients, in addition to positive physical benefits. Now, research is beginning to prove these observations correct as more data links art therapy and the improvement of common side effects from aging such as depression, physical ability, and cognitive function. Parkinson’s disease patients are one population for whom art therapy has proved to have major benefits.

Art, Music, and Drama Can Help Seniors with Parkinson’s Disease

Senior living facilities, medical clinics, and research programs are beginning to partner up with art and music professionals to work with Parkinson’s disease patients as they use art therapy as a means for physical therapy, as well as an emotional outlet.

One example of this takes place at Northwestern Memorial’s Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago. The hospital has created a special program called Creative Arts for Parkinson’s. Specially trained professionals from the local Institute for Therapy Through the Arts lead jam sessions, poetry readings, and sing-a-longs. Depending on the schedule for the day, and the group’s interests, the participants may learn to play simple instruments and make music as they sing songs together. Sometimes, they are handed scripts and each of them chooses a character to read as they learn how to project their voice and emote using well-known or relevant script material.

The goal of programs like these is multi-fold. They gather individuals together who have been given an unwelcome diagnosis, and teach them that they are not alone. Singing and playacting help to exercise mouth muscles, vocal chords, throat muscles and the diaphragm, all of which can become weaker and less productive as the disease progresses. Perhaps, even more importantly, the arts provide a medium through which Parkinson’s disease patients can begin to emote their anger, frustration, and sadness in a way their daily life may not accommodate. Says Diane Breslow, the center’s coordinator, “Very often with Parkinson’s disease there is a fear of the future and the unknown; we want to give these patients a better way to live with their disease in the present.” In addition to music and theater, the physical arts can also provide therapy for patients with Parkinson’s disease.

In 2010, medical clinicians and health professionals from all over the world gathered in Scotland for a World Parkinson’s Congress. While there, they were able to attend a presentation by Deborah Elkis-Abuhoff, a faculty member in the Counseling, Research, Special Education and Rehabilitation Department’s Creative Arts Therapy program at Hofstra University. Elkis-Abuhoff shared her research regarding clay manipulation and its ability to tame tremors, soothe agitated emotional states, and provide a sense of accomplishment for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. In fact, many patients find that by working with physical artistic mediums, they are able to control their movements in a much more focused way than in their normal day-to-day activities.

And, in a rather amazing coincidence, it seems that dopamine-stimulating drugs used to combat the side effects of Parkinson’s disease might give rise to increased artistic capacity, as has been witnessed by experts from around the planet.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, art and music programs can provide a welcome relief and improvement in seniors with Parkinson’s disease effects, in addition to providing a support network.

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