Many organisations are investigating how art can be used as an aid for people with dementia. We review a few of them here.
“Art can make a difference for people with dementia – like a call to the brain, a connection, helping people come alive again.”
This is the conclusion reached by Baroness Sally Greengross, Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia. The Group has commissioned further research into how art can be used in the treatment and, to some extent, prevention of the development of dementia.
The project is called Dementia and Imagination (www.dementiaandimagination.co.uk).
Arts 4 Dementia
Arts 4 Dementia (www.arts4dementia.org.uk) believe that art is an important aid for people with dementia because:
- Creative skills can remain vibrant for years after the onset of dementia. Engaging in artistic activity is the best non-pharmacological way to reawaken and stimulate cognitive ability.
- Arts opportunities can be used to restore a fulfilling social life.
The charity works with arts organisations to facilitate arts workshop. The aim of the workshops are to:
- Bypass the stresses of dementia
- Inspire the interests of families of those suffering from dementia
- Restore self-esteem and sense of purpose.
The Baring Foundation
The Baring Foundation (www.baringfoundation.org.uk) is another organisation that uses art as an aid to people with dementia. It has focused its programme on participatory arts with people over 60, usually those facing disadvantage or discrimination.
Their report “Ageing Artfully” identified some great projects that have brought benefits to dementia patients. These include
- Reminiscence projects – museums produce loan boxes full of objects and images to stimulate memories of the past, conversation and fun.
- Creation of memory boxes – which reinforce the older person’s sense of themselves; for a person with dementia memory boxes help them to remember who they are and where they come from.
- Outreach art – taking a picture to a group or individual for conversation and discussion.
Alzheimer’s Society (www.alzheimers.org.uk) also recognises the impact that art can have. They run Arts and Crafts workshops throughout the UK.
Others have taken art as an aid for people with dementia a step further. In the USA, researchers are looking at whether art can prevent the development of dementia. Initial reports suggest that those who participate in arts, crafts and social activities can reduce the risk of developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). MCI sometimes leads to dementia.
The American Academy of Neurology research involved 256 people with an average age of 87. All were free of memory and thinking problems at the start of the study. After an average of four years, 121 people developed MCI.
Key findings included:
- Participants who engaged in arts in both middle and old age were 73% less likely to develop MCI than those who did not report engaging in artistic activities
- Those who crafted in middle and old age were 45% less likely to develop MCI
- People who socialised in middle and old age were 55% less likely to develop MCI compared to those who did not engage in similar activities
Reflecting on the study, Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
‘Although this study looks at mild cognitive impairment rather than dementia, it does add to previous evidence that keeping your brain active during life with arts, crafts and social activities might reduce the risk of developing memory problems.
‘Alzheimer’s Society has long promoted the benefits of arts, crafts and social interaction as a way to help people with dementia live well and reduce loneliness. However, it is too early to say whether these activities done regularly throughout life can help keep dementia at bay.’
Dr Gene Cohen “The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life”.
Stimulation through arts leads to an improved sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. This may have a number of sources:
- It is common to feel happier when being given attention from someone else
- New or improved personal relations will certainly improve morale
- Skills can be learnt or refreshed
Perhaps less obviously though is that artistic activities validate the identity of the older person. As Oscar Wilde wrote “Art is the most intense mode of individualism.”