When Words Have Lost Their Meaning

Alzheimer's Patients Communicate through Art

by Ruth Abraham


Shows how creating art can give people with Alzheimer's a means to communicate their remaining memory, thoughts, spontaneity, and playfulness.

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November 2004


Pages 224
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Psychology/General
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Therapist Abraham shows how art can provide people with Alzheimer's disease a way to express their thoughts and emotions, when they can no longer communicate well verbally and words have lost their meaning. Abraham believes it is our moral obligation to provide elders with this tool, lest they be prematurely deemed beyond interaction. The confidence and self-esteem of elders—and that of the people who love them —can be bolstered by art therapy. And this is the first work demonstrating that art is not just busy work for those with Alzheimer's, but a profound and symbolic method allowing them to communicate. This work includes more than 70 drawings and paintings by people with Alzheimer's, and case histories of the men and women who created the artworks.

Art activities, with a significant therapeutic relationship, can especially increase quality of life for people with Alzheimer's, particularly during the seven-year relatively stable period of the illness. Psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and health care workers will also find this work especially valuable and insightful.

Table of Contents

IntroductionGetting to Know the Alzheimer's PatientDoes Art Therapy Really Help?The Therapeutic Hour: A Practical GuideTheoretical PerspectivesPortraits: Three Case StudiesPromoting Art TherapyA Personal StoryAfterwordReferences



Abraham offers guidance for relating to Alzheimer's patients by offering an alternative to impatience. Art therapy appears to reach into a place where words do not matter, enabling people with Alzheimer's disease to communicate their impressions, emotions, memories, and needs. She describes theories about why people with Alzheimer's disease can continue to communicate through their pictures even into advanced stages of their illness. She also offers honest advice on the practicalities of art therapy, gives projects that address different facets of the disease, and describes ways to include art therapy in the lives of people with Alzheimer's. Abraham knows well about what Alzheimer's can do to people and to the people around them. Among the 70 pictures by people with Alzheimer's in her book, she includes several drawn by her own mother.—Art Book News Annual

Abraham's book ^IWhen Words Have Lost Their Meaning^R is a valuable addition to the literature on art therapy for older people as it captures aspects of the practice of art therapy with people suffering from Alzheimer's. This positive and compassionate book is also precious as it portrays an art therapy approach which resurrects the desolate situation in which Alzheimer's suffers find themselves. This is, as Abraham states, vitally important as often people with Alzheimer's are abandoned just when they are in most need of help....[a] very useful reference book and particularly accessible to students working in this field for the first time. It will also be useful to professionals other than art therapists....Abraham is successful in demonstrating how art therapy with Alzheimer's patients can be personal, raw and disturbing in a book that gathers momentum as it progresses to a resoundingly powerful and moving end.—International Journal of Art Therapy

[S]hould be of great interest to relatives of dementia patients, doctors, nurses and caregivers, as well as to men and women just diagnosed with Alzheimer's.—The Jerusalem Post


In this immensely moving account Ruth Abraham gives a powerful sense of the life of the patient affected by Alzheimer's. Through lovingly described clinical examples and vivid pictorial illustrations she takes us into the world of the patient and their carers. The book offers practical advice alongside sensitive descriptions of the ravages of the disease but none the less it always remains optimistic. It becomes clear that art therapy can offer a positive contribution by facilitating expression of the personality long after many other faculties have diminished. This is a true contribution to the art therapy literature and it will be a must for art therapists and it will also be of significant interest to all those professionals who work with this client group as well as their families and carers.—Joy Schaverien, ^LProfessor of Art Psychotherapy, ^LUniversity of Sheffield, ^Lauthor of ^IThe Revealing Image^R

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