The Benefits of Art for Memory and Creativity

Written by Mary Sandoval, Encore activity coordinator

Why teach people with dementia how to draw? There are several reasons. One reason is that creativity is not dependent on memory and thus, by teaching people with dementia to draw, it allows them to express creativity. Creativity is a skill that is 90 percent learned.

Various studies have examined the connection between creativity and memory. These studies have shown that when people with dementia create art, the artistic process enhances their cognitive abilities and memory. In addition to the cognitive benefits, art can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. When people participate in complex activities such as learning a new skill, like drawing, the brain also creates new connections between neurons.

Drawing is also one of many skills that can help increase communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The left side of the brain is responsible for logical tasks that involve mathematics and science. The right side of the brain is responsible for tasks that involve creativity and artistic expression.

As an activity coordinator and artist, I lead drawing groups in The Birches’ memory care neighborhood Encore. I use the simple shape method to teach residents how to draw complex subjects, such as bicycles (see pictures below).

In the first drawing, participants followed step-by -step directions that I gave them. Once all the residents completed the first drawing (in a 20- 30-minute session), they were given a new sheet of paper. Then, I repeated the step-by-step drawing process. This time, however, all participants seemed more relaxed and confident.

Since their cognition had been stimulated by the previous drawing session, residents were able to shift from using only the left hemisphere of their brain, to using both hemispheres of the brain to direct their drawing. In the final stages of the second drawing session, the residents’ creativity began to flow more freely, as they added their own roads, colors and trees. At this time, residents discussed the differences between their two pictures and their feelings of accomplishment.

Many were surprised by the striking differences as the brain shifts from analytical thinking to creative thinking, thus entering a flow between the two hemispheres. It is in this exact shift between hemispheres, that some researchers suggest that memory can be improved by the use of creative activities.

To learn more about the relationship between art and brain health, join us for Art Therapist Katherine Kiehn’s presentation, “The Impact of Art Therapy on Brain Health” on April 25 at 7:00 pm. To RSVP, contact Katie Schaff Fagan or 630.789.1135.