Even if you’ve never undertaken or practised art in the past, people with dementia and their care partners can benefit greatly from participation in creative art projects. Creating art in a non-judgemental and supportive environment can:
- provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose
- provide opportunities for non-verbal expression
- provide opportunities for social interaction and conversation
- use motor skills
- help to relieve stress and anxiety
- help to improve mood and overall wellbeing.
Creative art projects can be as simple as charcoal or pencil drawing on paper, or extend to sculpture with clay or dough, watercolour painting, paint-by-number projects, and craft such as making cards, collage or even community murals. The subject of your art can vary, from portraiture to still-life to abstract art and more.
People with dementia who have difficulty communicating and expressing themselves may become increasingly frustrated and withdrawn if they are unable to convey their thoughts, feelings or emotions. Creating visual art can provide an outlet for non-verbal self-expression. It also provides opportunities for social connection as well as positive conversations about art-making practice and the artworks produced.
Artmaking provides a focus for positive and playful experimentation not to mention the pure joy of making shapes and patterns and using colour. Joining a craft group or art-making class is a great way to meet new people. Creating artwork in an encouraging and supportive environment can be relaxing and enjoyable for all involved.
Creating purpose and reducing anxiety
Some people with dementia can become frustrated and bored if their symptoms prevent them from engaging in activities that previously gave them a sense of purpose. Creating art is an accessible and achievable activity that can provide stimulation and new purpose.
Most forms of artmaking stimulate imagination, creativity and spatial awareness. This promotes a sense of calm and wellbeing, and helps to reduce anxiety, especially if the artmaking is undertaken on a regular basis.
Where possible, take a non-critical approach and reduce expectations about rules and techniques. Celebrate each step of the artmaking process as well as each artwork produced to build a sense of confidence and efficacy.
Artmaking can be modified to suit individual choice, as well as ability and needs. For example, if dexterity is an issue, you may consider molding dough or clay, collage or paper mache. While most art activities are easy to set up indoors, some activities, such as sketching and photography, can be enjoyed while you’re out and about. Art supplies are readily available and usually low cost and could even include recycled materials such as torn paper from magazines or gift wrapping.
If, due to cognitive or physical decline, people are unable to create artwork themselves, they can still appreciate art made by others. Dementia Australia have helped to set up dementia-friendly art tours in many city, local and regional art galleries. The tours aim to provide intellectual stimulation in a safe and supportive environment to foster self-expression, meaningful discussion and active engagement, while exploring the range of art works.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) offers an art and dementia program aimed to create new connections and life-enriching experiences through contemporary art people living with dementia and their care partners. Visit the MCA website for more details on their in-house and online programs, as well as the Art and Dementia Online Toolkit.
The National Gallery of Australia provide an Art and Dementia Online Program that they livestream on the fourth Friday of every month at 11am AEST. This social and creative program engages participants with the National Gallery’s collection through discussion and art making.
Hammond Care have an Arts on Prescription program where experienced artists work with small groups to help participants create and learn new skills, while focusing on specific health and wellness needs.
Since 2009, the Art Galley of NSW has offered monthly and on request discussion and developed to include sensory art making experiences to ensure the collection and exhibitions are accessible for people living with dementia and community support organisations. Many regional galleries also offer art and dementia programs – for example – the Lismore Regional Gallery and the Maitland Regional Art Gallery. So get in contact with your local gallery today and enquire about their offerings.
For more information about art and dementia, read our recent post, showcasing Celebrate Ageing and the Museum of Love. You can also consider art through programs such as Intergenerational Playgroups, where activities include paintings, collage, sculpture and murals. For more information read our recent blog post: Intergenerational playgroups: Benefits for people with dementia