Art Therapy Making a Difference: Former elementary art teacher now works with Alzheimer’s patients

We love this article from the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, a great blog on all things Alzheimer’s, highlighting the benefits of art therapy. We know first hand how important that our clients at Elderhaven Adult Day Centers enjoy and benefit from art projects, from working with clay to painting to quilting. Take a look at this article and see a little bit of what we see each day at AGE. -SP


It started with real paint brushes and make-believe paint, applied to the big-band sounds of Tommy Dorsey.

“This lady loves to paint!” Laurie Lunsford had announced over the music, greeting the advanced Alzheimer’s patients as they were rolled or escorted into the activity room at the Golden Livingcenter. Now with dry brushes in hand, they stroked and dabbed on a print of a painting by Michael Coleman called In the Adirondacks, practicing for the fun to come.

“We’re warming up,” Lunsford explained, shortly before passing out jars of blue, red, green and yellow watercolor. “It’s getting them revved up to do the real painting.”

Soon enough, the residents — all 80-somethings, and including Marie Morris, Zora Begley, Dorothy Bannister and Maxine Siewert — were applying real colors to a large sheet of plain white poster board. One corner resembled a patch of ocean-blue sky. Elsewhere, undulating lines looked like the charting of a bear or bull stock market, depending from which direction you looked.

But either way, the women were moving and, at least to some extent, interacting.

That was a minor miracle.

“If they weren’t in here doing art therapy, you’d think they were completely gone,” said Ben Wells, Golden Livingcenter’s executive director. “Most don’t recognize family members, or even (remember) how to eat. There’s something about the art therapy that brings out something deep inside.”

That, to be sure, is why Lunsford voluntarily does this each week at four local nursing homes.

“It’s a mission I believe in,” said the former elementary school art teacher, an advocate of the arts-and-health-care movement. “I think it is essential. It is needed. They come alive.”

As her painting class continued, Lunsford worked to engage the women in several other artistic efforts.

“We ought to make up a story about this,” she said, motioning toward the print of the Coleman painting, which featured two black bears in a tree. “Tell me a bear story.”

And while you couldn’t say the talk that resulted was a story, the women attempted to verbalize something, with Maxine even expressing what sounded like some long-recessed thought about a bear and Wyoming.

“How old were you?” Lunsford asked.

“Well, I was married,” the elderly woman responded, plainly.

Putting it into words

From there, the group tried recitation. “The bear went over the mountain” and “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” were attempted before Lunsford moved on to simple poems like “Roses are red, violets are blue …” all the while encouraging the women to add new stanzas.

Read more here at The Alzheimer’s Reading Room blog.