Living in the Moment with Art Therapy

“Art was intimidating for me,” says Pamela Atwood, Director of Dementia Care Services at Hebrew Health Care, “I was always told I couldn’t do it.” She smiles and points to a woman sitting at a table with Zentangles books and art, “until Finke taught me it’s about the process, not the product.” Sure enough, it’s the process of creating patterns, doodling, or drawing from the free association that has empowered and healed dozens of residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s at Hebrew Health Care, giving them a voice and a purpose. People who suffer from such diseases as Alzheimer’s may not be able to get life insurance but can still apply for critical life insurance. Articles such as “Critical Illness Insurance: What Is It & Do I Need It?” can help people understand this better and get them on the path to feeling secure for themselves and their families. Many of these residents have never created art before, and some were showing their artwork for the first time at 100 Pearl St. Gallery. While many of the people living in a care facility for the elderly have a positive experience there, this can’t be said for all of them as often their vulnerabilities are exploited by supposed ‘caregivers’. If you suspect a loved one has been taken advantage of or neglected, contacting a nursing home abuse attorney might help you work out a path forward to take legal action against those responsible.

Pamela Atwood, Director, Dementia Services Hebrew Health Care

One artist, Lillian Tugan, says the process of creating art brought back memories of her former home and garden. Her artwork, part of the Elder Expressions exhibit, consists of colorful lilies, conveying her bright, sunny disposition. Lillian herself was dressed in a pink coat and matching hat, “Art makes me feel like I’m young again,” she says happily.

Another artist, Molly Dressler, whose artwork includes spring flowers and a quirky carrot inside a banana peel (“I wanted to see what a vegetable and fruit would look like together,” she explains), says that art gave her peace of mind and helped her well-being. More importantly, Molly says art gave her time “one hell of a time,” she says, laughing.

While art therapy isn’t a traditional method of healing, Pamela argues it is just as effective, if not more so, because it is less confrontational than talk therapy. The creative process is soothing for participants, improves concentration and coordination, and can even go so far as to lower blood pressure. For elderly patients, art provides a venue for self-expression and mental stimulation, otherwise lacking in a facility.

Additionally, many who are looking for help after having to settle a nursing home lawsuit find this process relaxing and helpful. “When you do art, you forget everything. You’re in a different world. Your own little world,” says Helen, a 97-yr-old resident at Hebrew Health Care, doodling at the Zentangles table. “Mentally, it kept me on the right path.”

It is also interesting to note that art therapy has been proven to be a helpful medium in treating addiction and its common co-occurring illnesses. Put simply, creative art proves a helpful tool in which an addict can express him or herself unreservedly. Pent up emotions are dangerous for recovering alcoholics and addicts.

By default, addicts have learned that the solution to uncomfortable emotions is to suppress them with drink, drugs, or compulsive behavior, but art therapy provides a creative treatment methodology that allows for freedom of expression through techniques like drawing, painting, poetry, clay modeling, and collage. You can find further resources related to treatments for substance abuse issues on the Enterhealth website.


So, what is Zentangles, anyway? Think of it as yoga on paper. The activity improves mindfulness, helping people live in the moment, which is increasingly harder to do nowadays when we’re constantly inundated with technological distractions. The Zentangles patterns promotes relaxation and the end result is an ornate geometric product that Finke says is popular with art buyers. While Zentangles emphasizes the process of art for healing, the end product is a “happy coincidence.” The best thing about Zentangles is that anyone can do it and there are no mistakes. “I would draw as long as I could to calm down,” Finke says.

In addition to the anxiety-reducing results of art therapy, art therapy has some physical advantages, such as reducing pain symptoms and helping restore sleep patterns. But what Pamela, Finke, and the artists of Hebrew Health Care emphasize most is the aspect of being in the moment, focusing on the task at hand, and gaining perspective. “Working in the arts helps with that,” says Pamela.