"I See You" Art Therapy and the Maintenance of Self for Individuals with Advanced Dementia

by Sarah Roesler

This paper presents a qualitative study of the use of art therapy in the maintenance of ‘self’ with six individuals in the advanced stages of dementia. It seeks to find ways for health care professionals, therapists, and caregivers to maintain quality of life and help those in the severe stages of dementia preserve a sense of self. The researcher looks at how art therapy and therapeutic presence can assist in the maintenance of identity. The findings are presented in the form of a retrospective case study, of one research participant, and a case series of five individuals.

The case series draws upon a phenomenological descriptive approach including a thematic analysis of the sessions and artwork to highlight recurring themes and essence. Findings suggest that the use of a creative and stimulating modality, such as art therapy, can help to preserve a sense of ‘self’ and identity for the person with dementia. Neuroscience research supports the use of art therapy with irreversible cognitive decline and memory impairment, and benefits of engaging those with dementia are outlined and explored.

Unfortunately, there is little research suggesting how to engage with and maintain a sense of self for persons in the advanced stages of cognitive decline. Therefore, this paper also presents theories of personhood, person-centered care, and aspects of therapeutic presence that can be used to sustain identity and maintain the integrity of the individual. The need for continued research into the effects of art therapy with persons with advanced dementia is also discussed.