Art Therapy grant to impact local, state nursing homes

Group of retired seniors attending art class in community center with teacher

COOKEVILLE — Tennessee Tech’s Whitson-Hester School of Nursing is the catalyst in a grant-funded initiative worth more than $600,000 for 100 nursing homes across Tennessee. Tech will play an integral role in providing a program that benefits nursing home residents, family members and care professionals especially during this time of increased isolation.

“One of our goals is to provide increased quality of life for the residents, especially during this time of isolation,” said Shelia Hurley, an associate professor in the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing. 

ArtTherapy4Life® – Tennessee is a dignity-promoting fine arts initiative that can be offered in individual or group settings. The program consists of art activities best used with diverse populations and will focus on individuals living with Alzheimer’s Disease, cognitive, mental, developmental or other impairments.

“The arts have a unique ability to help individuals remain present and in touch with their personal identity and surroundings,” said Hurley. “This is key in off-setting the impact of isolation and transition trauma which can lead to delirium, hospitalization or loss of self.”

Happy retired senior man painting on canvas for fun at home

From watercolors, colored pencils to collage and an array of other materials, this educational training is a combination of listening, learning and a hands-on approach in how to start and sustain a successful activities program that greatly differs from art and crafts. 

The ArtTherapy4Life program has been developed in consultation with a registered and credentialed Art Therapist who serves as the Program Director for Thriving4Life®, Inc., a Tennessee-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization offering high-quality, non-pharmacological, therapeutic program to benefit individuals with many different diagnoses as well as those that love and care for them. 

Funding for this initiative has been made possible by a Civil Monetary Penalty fund grant compliments of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee State Agency. The initiative is also supported by Alliant Quality, an organization that seeks to improve the quality of care across the region. There is no cost to Tennessee Nursing Homes to participate in this funded project.


  • Provide enhanced quality of life for residents with a variety of diagnoses and impairments including cognitive or mental challenges and more.
  • Reduce agitation, negative behaviors, symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Provide opportunity to stimulate the brain and reduce negative impact of isolation.
  • Improve cognitive function, communication, positive interactions, autonomy and well-being.
  • Reduce antipsychotic drug use.
  • Develop staff appreciation of the value of arts-based interventions.
  • Equip caregivers with alternative tools to meet needs and reduce caregiver burden by enhancing relationships, facilitating care and reducing stress.

According to Hurley, the arts will not eliminate or cure an illness, they can stimulate the brain in a new direction. This offers individuals the chance to create, enjoy the experience, communicate their inner thoughts and feelings and provides them with a sense of accomplishment. The project is expected to create opportunities for unique and rewarding life-affirming moments for care professionals, program participants and family members. 

“It is very fulfilling and it is great to help nursing home residents and the elderly in our community and across Tennessee,” said Hurley. “We want to make a bigger impact in just our local area.”

Nursing Homes across the State of Tennessee wishing to participate may go to and select “Grants” to find out more.

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