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Publication Date: 13/10/2009 

Arts therapy class big success 

Help for people with dementia 

Photo of art therapist Claire Coleman-Smith 

Claire Coleman-Smith: "Art therapy can help improve confidence, sociability and calmness" 

An art therapy project is helping to improve the health and outlook for people with dementia in Lanarkshire.

NHS Lanarkshire’s Community Mental Healthteam for Older People (CMHTOP), based at Coathill Hospital, launched a 12 week-long arts therapy project with the aim of improving the health and outlook of people with the disease.

And the results of the initiative have been impressive.

Art therapist Claire Coleman-Smith, who ran the project along with members of the CMHTOP, said: “Art therapy can help people express their emotions and provide them with feelings of self-worth,confidence, a sense of purpose, improved communication skills, sociability and calmness.

“Significant steps were made by the individuals.Not only did they enjoy the sessions, their confidence and motivation increased and they developed closer relationships with each other and with staff.

“Staff also noticed some participants required less one-to-one community psychiatric nurse input outwith the art therapy groups.”

Two groups were set-up, one in the community for people with mild to moderate dementia, and one at the East Stewart Gardens Day Centre in Coatbridge, for people with moderate to severe dementia.

Throughout the sessions staff became aware of the project’s effectiveness as an assessment tool, which focused on participants’ strengths rather than their deficits.

It also allowed the group to interact and gain support from peers and staff.

Claire said: “The regularity of the groups helped to encourage a sense of security and confidence.

“This helped promote the groups as a place of stability which is important for people with dementia.”

The pilot project utilised art as a means of expression and as a therapeutic tool.

Claire helped the individuals in the groups with their art techniques, identified specific areas of interest and enabled participants to adapt their techniques to suit their different abilities.

She added: “People were able to use the sessions to express feelings, anxieties and worries as well as celebrate and reflect their past and present life experiences.

“They did this both verbally and through the use of the art materials.

“As the groups gelled there was openness and sharing of individual and shared experiences with dementia.

“Individuals found a new confidence to speak about their illness which in turn decreased their sense of isolation and improved their mood.”