Synopsis

Table of Contents

Illustrations

28 colour plates and 46 black and white figures of artwork by Alzheimer's patients at various stages of deterioration are used throughout the book to illustrate points.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to people who helped bring the book into being, and clarification of the author's use of terms such as Alzheimer's, dementia, artist, patient and client.

Introduction

The genesis of the book: the author's professional and personal influences; her interest in the moral dilemmas involved in the care of the elderly; the importance of the image as a means of expression as words lose their power; and of the artwork for the emotional well-being of the artist/patient and for communication with the caregiver; the optimistic conviction that art therapy can "alleviate suffering and enrich lives that otherwise would be discarded as useless."

1.  Getting To Know The Alzheimer's Patient

Alzheimer's disease progresses in generally recognizable stages, through memory loss, language disruption, perceptual distortion, emotional changes, disinhibition, narcissistic worldview and impaired senses. However there are significant differences in the way each individual loses some abilities and retains others. It is essential to respect the essential unique humanness of the sufferer.

2.  Does Art Therapy Really Help?

In the face of inescapably negative prognoses and the desperation of sufferers and caregivers, therapists working with dementia patients need to know that what they do is worthwhile, otherwise the task would be impossible. Happily, if they can see their work as a "therapy of the present", they often witness demonstrable benefits to the patient: an increase in freedom and spontaneity; calming of agitation; strong responses to colour; exercise of choice; families helped to understand unarticulated motivations; isolation alleviated through group experience; art therapy's adjunctive diagnostic possibilities; art used to reminisce, express emotions, access strengths, communicate via metaphors, and develop relationship with the therapist.

3.  The Therapeutic Hour: A Practical Guide

Sensitive, detailed suggestions, clearly born out of extensive experience with the mental and physical capacities and limitations of Alzheimer's sufferers, regarding suitable materials and their possible applications, as well as individual and group session structure, preparatory exercises for physical warming up, sensory and memory stimulation and a variety of ways to provide accessible, enjoyable session tasks.

4.  Theoretical Perspectives

Theoreticians' views on the value of art therapy; its particular usefulness for the Alzheimer's population due to its bypassing of verbal communication; its anchoring in psychodynamic theory; the importance of structure for freeing and channelling creativity; the art therapist's function; the therapist's role in addressing regressive needs, in mirroring and in providing ego support against eroding boundaries; the need for relationship; transference and countertransference.

5.  Portraits: Three Case Studies

Touching, in-depth therapeutic stories of three artist/patients demonstrate how artistic creations can serve as symbolic/metaphoric language, enlightening the therapist about the patient's concerns, emotions and aesthetic taste. Being understood and "mirrored" by the understanding therapist is in itself a therapeutic experience.

6.  Promoting Art Therapy For Alzheimer's Patients

Reasons why art therapists should promote the medium; opportunities that exist for its use and promotion; guidance for supervisors in helping therapists to articulate their desires, fears and convictions in relation to working with this particular patient group; protecting therapists from burnout; protecting vulnerable patients; integrating art therapy with other therapeutic modes and medical approaches; examples of workshops held to facilitate discussion of these issues.

7.  A Personal Story Afterword

The author's own story of pain, frustration and joy in her dual role as therapist and loving daughter to her mother who suffered and died from Alzheimer's; understanding of carers' struggles and challenges acquired through this personal experience.

Afterword

A passionate appeal to art therapists to use their creative power to give rich, intimate and fulfilling hours to people with Alzheimer's.

References

An extensive bibliography of relevant literature.

Index

A useful locator for important terms and references.

All images are from When Words Have Lost Their Meaning: Alzheimer's Patients Communicate through Art by Ruth
Abraham: Copyright © Ruth Abraham 2005; Website Copyright © Ruth Abraham, All Rights Reserved 2006