The Caregiver and the Creative Spirit

Meredith Wong,
Manager of Connect2culture®

There are some who think the term creative doesn’t apply to them because it may be understood only in the context of artists. However, if we think about creativity in terms of expression and communication, it’s a word that is relevant to everyone. The many ways in which we can communicate through and with expression is what makes us able to engage with our surroundings and with each other. In the context of caregiving, creative activity can be an outlet for self-reflection, care, exploration, and discovery.

Caregivers are often so overwhelmed by the demands of caregiving that they forget, or don’t have the energy, to care for themselves. For some, giving care may mean diverting all one’s emotional and physical energy away from oneself. Fortunately, engaging in creative activities that help to maintain a caregiver’s emotional and physical health, like listening or dancing to their favorite music, visiting a museum with friends, or enjoying a botanic garden, are opportunities to practice selfcare. Even if it’s just for a brief time, it’s a key step to breaking the cycle of frustration and isolation that some caregivers may experience. (While it is sometimes difficult to leave the person you’re caring for, there are opportunities to have shared experiences with the person with dementia.)

A growing number of cultural institutions – art and history museums, botanic gardens, and now performing arts organizations - have created programs using their creative form to encourage conversation and discovery through multisensory experiences - like listening and dancing to live music, handling objects in art museums, and smelling herbs and spices in a sensory garden. For both the caregiver and the individual with dementia, these interactions may stimulate feelings related to specific memories and is a chance for each person to tell their stories. For the caregiver, the break from the demands of their role is one of the keys to staying connected with the person in their care. Dance, music, visual art, and outdoor programs can offer respite from daily challenges, and are also a way for participants to meet, exchange stories, and build friendships through common experiences and interests.

A recent music-based program demonstrated the importance for caregivers to join in fun participatory activities. A small group of guests — caregivers and the people they care for — gathered in a room and were seated at tables brightened with festive decorations. Soon, two jazz musicians appeared, one a double bass player and the other a singer, who performed songs like “Cheek to Cheek” and “It’s a Wonderful World.” As the guests listened to the music, fingers started tapping, bodies started moving, and soon some were dancing. Faces lit up, and one inspired guest even danced with the singer as she sang. Caregivers who seemed content to just watch couldn’t help themselves, and joined in. For that afternoon, there was barely a difference among anyone in the room. The musicians’ easy musical style and song choices, the welcoming comfortable intimate space, and the integration of family members, caregivers, staff and volunteers had created an invaluable experience that made everyone smile.

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