How to Use Art in Aging and Dementia Caregiving With Mary Beth Flynn

Caregiving in dementia is often discussed in terms of challenges and solutions. But have you considered the role of art in this journey?

This episode brings a fresh perspective on using art to deepen connections with those living with dementia.

Artfully Aging is a watercolor art program designed for seniors of all skill and care levels. Locally, in St. Louis, Artfully Aging offers live in person watercolor sessions in senior living communities as well as a variety of community settings.

In addition to the live art sessions they offer seniors and senior organizations across the US the ability to order from a menu of projects on their website. This second option includes prepared ready to paint watercolor projects with access to accompanying "How To" videos shipped to seniors and/or their caregivers or activity staff. The holistic approach makes each art session meaningful and therapeutic.

Give Away:

Artfully Aging will give away (4) separate packets of (5) ready to paint watercolor projects (of their choosing) to the first four individuals who email in their request to [email protected]

How to Use Art in Aging and Dementia Caregiving

0:02:53 Introducing Artfully Aging and Creativity in Aging
0:05:14 Transitioning from Design to Stay-at-Home Motherhood
0:06:20 Struggling to reinvent myself during the recession
0:07:46 Discovering passion for serving seniors through art
0:08:55 From DIY to a New Business Model
0:10:23 Creativity and Aging: Benefits of Engagement
0:12:07 The Therapeutic Power of Art
0:14:52 Creating Connections and Sharing Stories through Art
0:18:15 Embracing Imperfection and Overcoming Intimidation in Art
0:22:57 Art as a Therapeutic Experience
0:28:22 Connecting Through Art: How to Get Started

The Therapeutic World of Art

Art offers a unique pathway to communication when words become elusive. It's not just about creating; it's about connecting. Art transcends the barriers erected by cognitive decline, allowing for emotional and memory bridges to be built and fortified.

Creativity Knows No Age

The founder of Artfully Aging shares insights into the intertwining paths of creativity and aging. Regardless of cognitive status, the urge to create and express oneself remains strong. Art provides a channel for this expression, proving that creativity knows no age.

Art in Action

From watercolor sessions to storytelling through painting, art becomes a medium for shared experiences. It's not about the end product but the process—engaging, reminiscing, and enjoying the moment together.

Beyond Craft: Art as Therapy

While crafts have their place, art therapy focuses on the experience. It's less about following instructions and more about letting imagination lead. This freedom can be especially liberating for someone navigating the complexities of dementia.

Engaging the Reluctant Artist

Even those who have never picked up a paintbrush can find joy and satisfaction in art. With encouragement and the right environment, anyone can participate and find meaning in their creations.

Imperfection is Beauty

Art therapy embraces imperfection. It's a reminder that beauty exists in every stroke, regardless of how it compares to the "ideal." This philosophy can be particularly comforting in dementia care, where embracing the moment is more important than achieving perfection.

A Community of Two

Art creates a special kind of community, even if it's just between the caregiver and the person with dementia. It's about shared experiences, understanding, and support. Art offers a way to engage, to bring joy, and to communicate beyond words.

Art and dementia caregiving are both journeys of the heart. Each brushstroke, each color choice, is a step towards understanding, empathy, and connection.

This episode invites us to see art not just as a hobby but as a vital tool in the caregiving toolkit. Let's pick up our brushes and see where the journey takes us.

You can find Artfully Aging on:
artfullyaging.com
[email protected]

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Transcript

The Power of Art in Dementia Care

[0:01] Today's episode was a very different and unique episode.

I know when you work with people living with dementia and you're in the caregiving space, oftentimes we hear about music.

What we do not hear as much about is art and how art can truly be therapeutic for a person living with dementia, but even more importantly, how art can truly be a way for you as a family caregiver of somebody with cognitive impairment to connect with them at a deeper and more meaningful level.

I want you to listen to today's episode where I speak with Mary Beth Flynn from Artfully aging and we explore creativity in aging.

[0:54] And you need to stay to the end of the episode because Mary Beth has a giveaway for people of this program that you can tap into and perhaps use for you and your family members.

And yet again, if I resonate with you, I would love for you to to reach out and subscribe to this podcast.

Go to Apple Podcasts and give me a review on Apple Podcasts. I read them all.

They're very, very special and near and dear to my heart because I really am here to change the narrative for family caregivers of people living with dementia to help you decrease your stress, reduce your burnout, and learn how to manage challenging behaviors using science-backed strategies.

So check out today's episode.

Welcome to Dementia Caregiving for Families

[1:57] Hey there, success seeker. Welcome to Dementia Caregiving for Families.

Do you feel overwhelmed with the daily struggle of dementia caregiving, looking for an easier path.

You're in the right place. On this podcast, we teach you the skills to simplify caregiving.

We unravel the mystery of dementia and guide you through the often difficult behaviors.

I'm Lizette, your host and fellow family caregiver.

As an occupational therapist, I bring my professional and personal personal experience to this community.

Here we speak the truth, but without the verbal vomit.

I know you will find value in today's program, so buckle up while this flight takes.

Introducing Artfully Aging and Creativity in Aging

[2:53] Well, welcome to today's episode of Dementia Caregiving for Families, and I am very excited to bring my first guest on the program related to art.

And it's near and dear to my heart because my mom is an artist and has always been an artist.

And so I wanted to explore with the founder of Artfully Aging, how creativity and aging go together and how we can continue to use our creativity as we're getting older.

So welcome to today's program, Miss Mary Beth Flynn.

Mary Beth Flynn. I totally butchered that.

It's because it says Mary Flynn on the screen at the bottom. I'm sorry.

It's okay. Do you go by Mary Beth or do you go by? I go by Mary Beth.

Okay, so you guys totally messed me up, right? I'm sorry, it's understandable. We'll give it to you.

Well, welcome to today's program, Mary Beth. I am excited to have you here.

So first off, tell me a little bit about yourself, and then we'll start to talk about art and creativity and how they work together.

[4:08] Okay, well, gosh, thank you so much to talk about. I'm so excited to be here, and thanks for having me, Lizette.

Um so yes i'm marybeth flynn and i am the owner founder of artfully aging a watercolor art program uh designed for seniors um i am from st louis missouri and i am a lifelong artist all my life ever since i was a little girl i like to do art and my parents fostered that for me and And I also noticed growing up and doing art that I, you know, I kind of got in the flow.

Like there was something very calming or soothing, maybe therapeutic about it, which I didn't really identify, except that when I would get lost in my art, I would realize that I got lost in it and something kind of magical happened.

Happened so I knew that early on and I actually majored in interior design because, majoring in art probably wasn't going to be very practical.

Transitioning from Design to Stay-at-Home Motherhood

[5:14] I wasn't I'm not that great of an artist so um and then and then I realized something else about that too along the way but so I worked in design for a number of years out of college doing doing commercial interiors.

And then I became a stay-at-home mother with three little boys.

And then pretty soon after that, I became a single stay-at-home mother.

And so I needed to find something to generate some revenue. And I started doing my own artwork.

And I thought, I'll be a freelance artist back in 95.

And I did that. And I developed a little house portrait business, And I paint original watercolors of houses by special order.

And I developed that. It was a perfect gig for a stay-at-home mom.

And I got a national recognition from that and did some pretty major marketing.

And as house portrait businesses go, they're usually, I call it my little cottage business.

And no pun intended. No pun intended at all.

Struggling to reinvent myself during the recession

[6:20] I got that going. But then and that was going to sustain me.

Well, that was my plan. You know, the best laid plans. Wow.

Then the recession hit and I still have kids at home.

And so I had to scurry around and start to try to reinvent myself.

People weren't buying house portraits then to, you know, they weren't flying off the shelf.

So I became part of the gig economy and I had several little jobs. I painted houses.

I worked for a floral designer part-time. I went back to an architectural firm where I had worked in my design career and worked there part-time.

I got a part-time gig as a home caregiver, which I was never going to do, but I was cobbling my little life together and it was a little bit stressful.

And I also got a little gig through a friend friend who worked at an adult day center in here, St.

Louis, doing art, which I had never done art, taught art, and I'd never worked with seniors.

Now, this is back 14, 15 years ago, and I loved it, and I was kind of doing all these things, saying, I got to get my stars to line up, you know, like something's going to happen, because I can't keep doing all these different things, and I.

Discovering passion for serving seniors through art

[7:46] So I decided, hey, I could do, I could serve seniors and, you know, do art and develop a program.

And that would be very fulfilling, which was really important to me now, do something that really was meaningful.

And I could see that it was making a difference in their lives.

And so that's by 2010, I had my name and, you know, developed, started developing a website. And I was really doing it all over St.

Louis and as a full time career and developing my program and then COVID hit.

So then, OK, best laid plans.

And and I pivoted during COVID. And I thought, how could I go in?

How could I serve the communities without going into them?

And I could package up a prepared watercolor project, ship it off to them and then make a little how to zoom video.

And email it to them. Of course, this is all taxing my learning curve, all of that. And I totally relate to that.

I was like, what's a Zoom video?

From DIY to a New Business Model

[8:55] Here we are. Yes, here we are. And well, that was somewhat successful.

So and that was all on the DIY. Right. And so I decided that, hey, there's a market for this.

And I could I could make a menu of all my projects on a website.

And I could make videos that go with each one.

And I could, of course, I'm going to need someone to help me do all that.

I have no idea how to put all that together.

But the long and short of it is I did hire, you know, a developer and they helped me build the whole thing and the business, you know, a new business model.

And I launched it almost three years ago, the new website with the internet.

And so virtually people can use my program now anywhere.

Anywhere in the world. Anywhere in the world. And it's really mostly in the U.S. right now, but senior living communities, anybody can order it.

So I have some senior centers who have been using it, seniors who live independently.

Really, my program is for are literally everyone, but I developed it and designed it while working with seniors and seniors of every care level. Every care level.

Every care level. Yes. Absolutely. Talk to me a little bit about creativity and ageing.

Creativity and Aging: Benefits of Engagement

[10:23] Did you know that caring for a person with dementia doesn't have to be this hard?

If you are struggling and you would like to join our next free workshop, the topic of the workshop, is three tips how to avoid challenging dementia behaviors without stress, anxiety, or burnout.

I invite you to walk away with science-backed dementia caregiving skills that many professionals don't even know after attending this free workshop.

If you'd like to register, message me the word workshop on Instagram or check out the link in the show notes below.

[11:20] Well, all I can say, or the biggest thing I can say, the most important thing is that it's very important.

And I think we all know that now. But I think the tendency is to think, well, you know, elderly people, people who are not cognitively with it anymore, like they can't do it.

So we won't bother with that. But the reality is that any type of level of engagement is beneficial and there are lots of benefits to engaging.

And it's not suddenly we it's not at all about being an artist or being a great artist or it's about finding something within you.

The Therapeutic Power of Art

[12:07] Here's a great example. I had a man in a group at a community here and he came out of corporate America all his life.

And now he's living in a, it was an independent living center.

And he came to the group and did the art project. And he worked really hard and diligently on it.

He finished it. He's like, this is good for the soul.

Yes. That was such a great testimony, right?

Yes. So there's something soulful about it. And that's what I knew from my own live life experience.

I knew there was really something about it.

I am not an art therapist.

This is therapeutic art. It is therapeutic, very much so.

And the benefits are it's relaxing.

So relaxation, cognitive stimulation, creative stimulation.

You can have a sense of community. Chances are you have a group.

And now we're talking, I think, on specifically home care.

That's a community, a caregiver and a client. Two people make a community, right?

[13:24] And it's a little, it's socializing. It brings up reminiscing.

So often, like, I have 48 projects on my website, and they're all the whole array of topics and genres like holidays, seasons.

[13:43] There's some still life, there are animals, there are water, you know, just a whole array of everything and life different parts of life right there you can they will all elicit different stories types of stories for people to tell and so and one thing i've learned is um in doing a group and often at the around the end of the project uh is a good time to do a little reminiscing or storytelling and it could be a snow scene and like what's the story what of being out playing in the the snow.

And of course, we're doing a lot of snow scenes now. And who are you with?

And, you know, was it your, are you with your children? Or are you the child now with your sibling?

Or, you know, what's going on? And let's talk about sledding.

You know, there are all kinds of things you can talk about.

And often the group, I'll say, okay, let's have a story. And they'll look at me dead pan.

And I'm like, okay, I'll tell you a story.

One of my stories and about growing up or, or or being in the plane in the snow, or whatever the project is.

Creating Connections and Sharing Stories through Art

[14:52] And all of a sudden, everybody wants to open the floodgates and have a story. So that's all.

[14:58] Yes. So what I really love about what you're telling me is the connection that people can make with one another through art.

Because that's, you know, you mentioned this earlier on, in the conversation related to, oh, that person has cognitive impairment, they can't do anything, or, you know, this view that people have.

And I'll oftentimes have people who are family caregivers of a person living with dementia mention, but, you know, mom isn't doing so-and-so, mom used to do this or that.

And I always tell them it's not that they've lost the desire to do the activity necessarily.

They have lost sometimes the ability to initiate it and plan it out for themselves.

[15:52] So if you can coincidentally facilitate it, if you can bring them along, if you as the person who's providing care or helping that person, if you can set the stage, then they can still do these activities.

And I love the concept of having it already pre-planned and pre-figured out and all that the person who's the caregiver, who's the family member, who might be a daughter who's still trying to work or a spouse that's juggling 15 balls trying to keep the household going.

But having an activity that's already kind of pre-packaged encouraged that you don't have to finish it in one setting.

Art you can put away, you can come back to it, you can do it over several days, that a person can sit down and we can get two projects.

I can do it, my mom can do it, we can do it together, and then we can connect and we can talk to one another and we can reminisce.

So I really love that.

Have you you had a lot of experience of working with people living with cognitive impairment or dementia that you can tell us a couple of stories about?

[17:08] Yes. Well, I've worked, I've done, I counted some time ago, maybe six or so months ago, I figured out I've led over 4,000 watercolor sessions.

Wow. I thought that was pretty amazing. Yeah, that's great.

And all levels, all All different skill levels.

But the biggest thing I think, and you kind of touched on this about facilitating it and having it ready.

And as people are often afraid or they say, oh, I can't do that. I'm not. Are they here?

Watercolor. And they're they're afraid. They're very intimidated.

[17:47] And so, you know, I've had participants come in and, you know, you kind of have to coax them in.

Well, you know, I'm not going to make you do it, but maybe you come and sit at the table with us. Right. Watch.

And then you kind of draw them in. You know, it's kind of like you can't just take a no, like, no, I'm not coming.

You know, you kind of have to work it a little bit and use some different tactics, right? Right.

Embracing Imperfection and Overcoming Intimidation in Art

[18:15] And everyone's an artist. OK, yes, that's what Artfully Aging says.

Everyone is an artist. There's something within all of us. And beauty and perfection have nothing to do with each other.

I will have often participants trying to be perfect.

And and, you know, my projects come with with a guide on them, with a graphite guide on them.

And I always say you don't have to stay exactly in the lines or if you want to change it in any way, please do and they'll try and and that's very frustrating for them if they can't and you know I always say I have these little isms these little sayings I say and one is beauty and perfection have nothing to do with each other so let's just stop trying to be perfect because I can tell you right now it won't work everybody gets a big kick out of that and they're like yes okay I because that's That's exactly what they're trying to do. They're trying to be perfect.

[19:13] And so that's one thing.

And I have had some participants that have come in and done and been regulars and created art and put it all up in their room and wanted to tell me about how they were so, they would know that their husband, who's now deceased, would love it.

That he would be so amazed at what I'm doing now that I never did this before.

That was my Betty friend, a community here.

And I would go to her room with her and she'd talk about Bill and how he would love to see what she was doing.

So, yeah, there are just all kinds of stories. And another great one is, is the hour over already?

What? This went so fast. It went so fast. Yeah, it went so fast.

Very engaged in what they're doing when they're with these art projects.

Because yes, you do when you're when you're creating something, and you're in that sense of flow, you don't notice the time going by.

It is it's extremely therapeutic on so many different levels.

I recently had a patient, she's passed away since, since, you know, she's recently passed away. And.

[20:36] I worked in home health, so I would go to people's houses. And I'm always paying attention to what's on the walls because I love art. I took art in high school.

My parents have a lot of beautiful artwork in their house. My mom is an artist herself.

So I've always enjoyed looking at people's art. And I walked into the house, and I kind of saw these paintings on the wall.

And I'm like, hmm, tell me about these paintings.

And she started becoming an artist in her later years of life after she retired.

You know, and she had more time on her hands and she was actually a pretty proficient artist.

And it was very, it's very gratifying to me to be able to engage people in these types of activities.

I know earlier on when you and I were speaking a couple of weeks ago, we talked a little bit about the difference between arts and crafts.

[21:29] Do you want to touch on that a little bit for people? Did you know that caring for a person with dementia doesn't have to be this hard?

If you are struggling and you would like to join our next free workshop, the topic of the workshop is three tips how to avoid challenging dementia behaviors without stress, anxiety, or burnout.

I invite you to walk away with science-backed dementia caregiving skills that many professionals don't even know after attending this free workshop.

If you'd like to register, message me the word workshop on Instagram or check out the link in the show notes below.

[22:29] Oh, so the difference between doing a craft and something artful.

Well, so usually doing a craft, it's got some pieces that go, you know, it's something that's going to be assembled and make something beautiful, like a wreath or something to hang on your door or something like that.

And that's all, that's great.

And that's really can be fun and they can have something that they go away with, but it doesn't leave a lot of room for...

Art as a Therapeutic Experience

[22:57] Their own creativity. I guess with our art program, we try to create a whole experience.

So it's not just the painting, but it's like the reminiscing.

And another great exercise I do with a snow scene or a sailboat on a waves project is do an imagery sensory activity.

Activity and that we imagine that we are in that setting and what do we hear what do we smell and you know what do we feel and you know like the salt water or you know the salt in the you know there are all kinds of things and so usually in a craft when you're assembling something like that you don't necessarily go off into all those details so in that way it's I think in that But that aspect and some of these aspects we're talking about make it a therapeutic experience.

[23:55] Yeah. So one of the biggest things as an occupational therapist, when I 30 years ago, 30 plus years ago, went through university, we actually had to do a lot of activity analysis.

We had to take an activity. We had to break it down into all the different aspects and steps and so on and take a look. And so because of that, we did a lot of craft.

We did art too, but we did a lot of crafts. And what's always stuck with me, especially related to dementia, dementia caregiving, or people living with cognitive impairment.

[24:32] Is oftentimes crafts can be extremely frustrating for them.

[24:37] There's a standard that they need to meet. It should look like something else.

And when you're struggling with that component of...

[24:50] Being able to plan and execute these, that it needs to look exactly the same.

It can be very frustrating.

Whereas with art, there's not as much of a, it needs to look exactly like the example.

The sample. Yes, exactly.

[25:13] That's a good point you bring up. So I just, I'm excited for people to really explore using art as part of their way to connect with their family member who may be living with cognitive impairment.

Impairment because one of the big things that people always tell me is that, you know, they don't know what to do with the person.

There's nothing, they're limited with what, and so people get stuck in that loop of, well, there's nothing that I can do.

Well, art is something you can do with a person living with cognitive impairment.

And it's not only therapeutic for the person living with the cognitive impairment, but I actually think it's more therapeutic for the person who's not living with cognitive impairment because that person has the opportunity in that session where they're working with their family member to create memories for themselves that are joyful and positive and connect on an emotional level with the person that they may not have when when they're doing the caregiving stuff. Absolutely.

[26:30] And that's why I said it's a community. Two people make a community.

And whether it's a caregiver or a family member who is doing the caring, you develop a different kind of relationship when you do an art activity together.

[26:49] There are different, if somebody, I mean, there are ways to get people engaged who are not, who have lost a lot of their capabilities, like a hand over hand. Exactly.

[27:01] And one would say, well, they can't do any of that, so we can't do it.

And the truth is that there are techniques and ways to engage people on a different level.

And if you do the hand over hand, or I call it prompting and cuing, I'm going to outline this, and then I want you to paint it in.

And somebody out there might say, well, then they're not doing it, you're doing it. But that the point is to engage them in the process.

Actively engaged. Yes. Yes. And I think that's OK.

I can do sometimes I paint for it. No, I just want you to paint and I want to watch you.

And they love it.

And that can be therapeutic. That's OK.

Right. That's that's fine. Let's do it. And I have a whole table of people and some can hold the brush and paint and some can't, but I know they want to be there and be a part of the group.

And it's something magical, something special happens.

So it is wonderful. Happened at home with two people.

Absolutely. Absolutely. So for people who actually want to connect with you and find your products, where would they go?

Connecting Through Art: How to Get Started

[28:22] How can they order it? Do they just go to your website?

[28:27] How can people get a hold of actually either working with you if they're in the St.

Louis area or if there are people who want to actually try some art projects at home?

Yes, it's very easy and they could just go on the website perfectlyaging.com.

It's a pretty lengthy website, but really you want to get to the the Shop Projects page and that's the whole menu of projects.

They come in packets of prepared watercolor sheets. They actually come in fives.

[29:02] And you can order it right there like an order off of Amazon.

It's very easy. You don't have to buy.

There's no minimum quantity. You can buy one packet and try it.

[29:14] There's an aging in place packet on there that you would have.

There's a phone number on there to call.

And we could set something up like a little packet with all of the art supplies and prepared sheets.

And the phone number is on there.

All of our contact information is on the website, artfullyaging.com.

And all of that, we'll put in the show notes for people to be able to find easily when the episode goes live.

Okay. And you can also contact me directly by email at contact at artfullyaging.com.

And my phone number is on the website. So I would love to talk to you and answer any questions.

[30:02] It's art for everyone. So if you're a caregiver and you'd like to do an art project, This is like ready to go. And it gives you just enough guidance to make it so it's for everyone.

You don't have to be an artist to be able to help someone through this.

The videos are, there are how-to videos on there. Everything is there for you.

And the videos are included in the price of the watercolor packets.

So you've really taken the guesswork out of it for people. They just need to do the project.

Yes. And even the techniques for engaging people, the prompting and cueing, that is in the videos also.

Hand over hand demo is in the video. Everything is. I love that. That is awesome.

[30:54] Well, Mary Beth, thank you so very much. I'm very excited to have connected with you today.

I'm really excited to, I hope people take you up on the offer of actually getting some some of the arts, to do art with their family members.

One of my biggest passions for this program and for helping family caregivers is to think outside the box, right?

To change the way people are thinking about dementia and dementia caregiving and to really highlight the abilities that people still have.

There's so much is focused on the loss.

What they can't do. Correct. But But there is so much that that person can still do.

And if we're just willing to look outside the box and tap into that, we can create such a different experience for people, both the family caregiver as well as the person who is living with this condition.

So I really appreciate your time today. Thank you very much for joining me.

Oh, thank you so much. I love meeting you and sharing about artfully aging.

And don't forget there are some giveaways.

[32:06] Involved. Yes, ma'am. So you'll list that and we'll put that in the show notes as well for people.

Okay, perfect. Yeah. Maybe you can give them a teaser and tell them what it is. Well, there's some free packets involved.

So go to the notes. Check out the show notes.

Go check out artfullyaging.com and connect with Mary Beth. She is a wonderful resource for you, and I look forward to seeing you guys on the next show.

Great. Thank you, Lizette. I loved it. You're welcome. Thank you so much.

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If you would like more information on how to help a parent living with dementia. Join Our Next FREE Workshop. https://www.dementiacaregivingmadeeasy.com/wsl

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About the author

“Think Different” Dementia’s owner, Lizette Cloete, OTR/L graduated as an Occupational Therapist from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1992. Lizette has almost 30 years of experience as an Occupational Therapist in a variety of settings, the latest being in the home health environment. She enjoys teaching on the topic of dementia, most recently presenting at a national conference on the topic “Dementia Made Simple”.

Disclaimer: These blogs, videos and any work done by Lizette Cloete OT, as a Member of Think Different Dementia, LLC, is given only as educational content and consulting work. This does not create an Occupational Therapist-Patient Relationship. The educational content and consulting work performed should not be considered medical treatment as an Occupational Therapist. The consulting work does not take the place of medical work normally performed by a licensed Occupational Therapist. Please consult a licensed Occupational Therapist for medical advice.

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