In recent years there has been an increasing recognition and acceptance amongst the medical community of the potential benefits for artistic and musical pursuits in those with dementia. The focus has shifted from theoretical benefit to evidenced-based benefit. The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra appears to be leading the way, running a popular Art Therapy Program1. Established in 2007, it has now been brought to regional Australia. During the upbeat program’s weekly tours, artworks are discussed as a stimulus for creative awareness and expression, and help to address the sense of isolation that is common for those living with the condition. These tours now even integrate use of information technology and sketches by participants, providing an opportunity for self reflection and also a deeply enjoyable moment in the present with family or carers that is beyond just sensory stimulation.
The importance of positive experiences, cultural triggers, and engagement in social activity for those with cognitive impairment cannot be ignored, and experiences such as music and movement sessions, art or even aromatherapy may lead to better mood and improved quality of life overall. Music can be used to unlock distant memories thought long gone. Music is universally appreciated and is an early, fundamental activity for the brain. It has close ties to story and language, and, interestingly on brain imaging has been closely linked to language areas, spanning several brain regions2. Much of a person’s sense of self may be tied to their musical experience. Whilst the scientific evidence is somewhat mixed for a direct benefit to cognition, studies do recognise a suggested benefit for reduced agitation and enhanced social well being 3,4. So, why not embrace one’s ongoing creative abilities rather than disabilities, and get involved?
Brown S, Martinez MJ, Parsons LM. Music and language side by side in the brain: a PET study of the generation of melodies and sentences. Eur J Neurosci. 2006 May;23(10):2791-803.
Elliott M, Gardner P. The role of music in the lives of older adults with dementia ageing in place: A scoping review. Dementia (London).2016 Mar 18. pii: 1471301216639424
Brasure M et al. Nonpharmacologic interventions for agitation and aggression in dementia. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2016 Mar. Report No.: 16-EHC019-EF.