A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

Collage Conversations during Dementia

Magazine pictures and collage making are effective tools for communicating with people with dementia even in later non-verbal stages.

Years ago, a small nursing home hired me to create an all-inclusive art activity; the majority of the residents had dementia and couldn’t do art. Mixed media collage has been my passion for years so I created a collage activity with families acting as companions helping. The families were amazed at how their loved one chose pictures relating to their prior lives. They often hadn’t realized the individual still retained these memories. That’s when I realized they were communicating through their picture selections.

Before we learned words, our brains recorded experiences as images. As adults’ words became our second language; our brain translates them to images in a fraction of a second. In school I learned sight-reading. Words were associated with pictures and processed as pictures. I still think in pictures however when people speak using too many descriptive words, they lose me.

Because people with dementia are losing language and they think primarily in pictures and have difficulty processing words. Talking too fast or using too many words confuses them. So, picture collages can become picture stories of their life.

If the individual has the ability to create collages on their own let them, but if they can’t you need to help.

Go through the magazine one page at a time while holding the magazine up in their line of vision. Use your finger to point out the pictures you are talking about so they can follow you. Discuss each picture and ask simple questions. This helps to trigger memories and increases social interaction. Give them time to respond to questions. If they seem to linger on a picture or talk about one, ask if they like it and cut it out and put it in their hand. Ask them to place it on the paper, put your hand on the paper to show them. Then you paste it wherever they decide if they are unable or unwilling to do so. Then each time a picture is glued you lift the collage again to their line of vision, and talk about the selections. “Love this dog!” I had a dog when I was 10. Have you ever had a dog? What color was he? Did he have a name?” If they are non-verbal you talk about your dog memories or anything to do with dogs. It’s important they stay engaged.

Collage making is easy and from nine to ninety everyone loves to cut and paste and make collages; even the grandchildren. Try this with the individual with dementia and open a new line of picture communication which can bring your family together.

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