Art therapy is a technique that has been applied to improve numerous varied conditions. It has been demonstrated to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve dexterity. It’s one of a number of complementary therapies, from occupational (OT), speech and physical therapy (PT); to boxing, singing and making art, that have been demonstrated effective in helping people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) both improve physical condition and increase happiness.
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, neurodegenerative condition known to impair motor and non-motor function including interference with visuospatial function. Visuospatial refers to the loss of orientation in space, perception of motion, and identification of targets.1,2
Treatment approaches for Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s is generally characterized by its motor symptoms. PD treatment, especially in the early stages, is usually with medications that replace dopamine to ease and restore motor function. But medications may become less effective as the disease progresses. Complementary therapies offer an alternative approach to improving motor and non-motor symptoms. A multidisciplinary approach to treating PD which includes OT, PT, counseling and has been demonstrated to be most effective.1,2
The incidence of PD is rising as the overall population ages. Besides physical muscular limitations, the impact of the condition can include loss of independence, mood disorders, and cognitive impairment.3
Art therapy for people with Parkinson’s
According to the American Art Therapy association, art therapy is a mental health discipline, facilitated by a credentialed art therapist, who uses various art forms and materials to engage in the creative process as a way to explore feelings, increase self-esteem and develop social skills. Its many goals include improving physical functioning and well-being. Projects can include the use of oil or watercolor paints, pastels, clay and other media based on the project and or physical limitations of the individual in therapy.1,4
Making art involves many neurologic mechanisms some of which may be impaired in people with Parkinson’s.2 Difficulty with hand-eye coordination, and perception of objects, among other symptoms, are indicators of visuospatial deterioration. The benefit of art therapy in treating PD is being investigated in a number of settings around the world.
Research studies to suppport art therapy
The ExplorArtPD study at NYU Langone Health in New York City is evaluating the role of art therapy in improving visuospatial function and gait in people with PD.1 The exact cause of Parkinson’s and its associated visuospatial dysfunction is not known.2 Researchers are seeking to identify both the neural components that cause visuospatial impairment and any potential targeted treatments.
Other studies have looked at working with clay as an art material because of its ease of interactive use, tactile qualities and effects on manual dexterity. The ExplorArtPD study reported that working in clay results in satisfaction in creating art while experiencing relaxation and emotional resolution. It can help ameliorate some of the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s including muscle rigidity, tremors, and fatigue.3
Benefits of art therapy
Art therapy may be able to help restore some functional independence and improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s.1 In treating PD and other conditions it has been reported to improve mood and self-confidence, improve creativity and motor skills and general quality of life.2,3 These benefits can be intangible for some, but studies have measured specific improvements in psychosocial well-being including:5
Improved motor control
A sense of individuality
The art studio offers a safe space where people find the ability to relax and shift the focus away from their disability. For those with voice impairments it permits non-verbal forms of communication. Everyone has the ability to concentrate on other forms of expression, including social and emotional connections.
Art therapy helps people with Parkinson’s better understand their emotions and express them creatively. Improvements in cognitive thought, confidence and social interaction contribute to ongoing improvement in mental and physical well-being.2
Lopes, JM. Study to Explore Art Therapy for Improving Visuospatial, Motor Function in Parkinson’s Patients. Available at https://parkinsonsnewstoday.com/2018/09/19/study-explores-art-therapy-parkinsons-visuospatial-motor-symptoms. Accessed 10/20/2018.
Cucca A, Acosta I, Berberian M, et al. Visuospatial exploration and art therapy intervention in patients with Parkinson's disease: an exploratory therapeutic protocol. Complement Ther Med. 2018;40:70-76. Accessed 10/20/2018.
Bae YS, Kim DH. The Applied Effectiveness of Clay Art Therapy for Patients With Parkinson's Disease. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2018;23:2515690X18765943. Accessed 10/20/2018.
What is Art Therapy? Available at: https://www.arttherapy.org/upload/whatisarttherapy.pdf. Accessed 10.20.2018.
Canadé, S. Art Therapy for People Living with Parkinson’s. Available at: https://www.davisphinneyfoundation.org/blog/art-therapy/. Accessed 10/19/2018.