by Susan McFadden
People living with dementia in the Fox Valley enjoy regular opportunities to look at art and make art. For example, many Fox Valley Memory Project memory café gatherings include some kind of active engagement with the arts.
In addition, we have two SPARK programs in the Fox Valley that offer monthly experiences of art viewing and art making at the Building for Kids and the Trout Museum of Art. Also, you should know that if you travel to different parts of the state, perhaps to visit family or friends, you’re welcome at other SPARK programs (scroll down on the SPARK website for a list).
But, you might wonder, does any of this really make a difference? No, the arts will not “cure” dementia, but we now have plenty of research showing that arts programs have important effects on people’s well-being and communication. This is true for those living in residential care settings and for those still living in their homes.
A research study in England and Wales involving people living at home, in residential care, and in a county hospital demonstrated the positive effects of weekly participation in a visual arts program. This research is notable because of the different settings of the arts programs and the fact that the researchers collected data throughout the 12-week program and again three months after it ended. This means the research was a longitudinal study. Also important is that the study used a multi-method approach. The researchers collected information using standardized surveys, interviews, and detailed observations guided by an observation method designed to evaluate effects of arts programs on well-being in people having dementia.
Regardless of where they lived, over the duration of the program, the people in the study showed significant increases in their interest, attention, pleasure, and self-esteem. There were significant decreases in negative affect and sadness. This observational data can be understood as capturing people’s responses “in the moment.”
Scores on the measure of communication declined only for the people living in the county hospital; these scores actually increased for people living in residential care environment. The authors concluded that this was probably because the environment at the hospital was more “institutional” and did not encourage social interaction.
The interviews revealed that some people attended the program because of the art focus and others valued the social aspect most; a lot of people said both were important. Also, even if some weren’t especially happy about their results, they liked the experience of making art.
The researchers ended their article with this statement: “Based on our findings, we encourage dementia care providers and arts and cultural services to work toward embedding art activities within routine care provision.” In England, they call this “social prescribing.”
Windle, G. et al. (2018). The impact of a visual arts program on quality of life, communication, and well-being of people living with dementia: A mixed-methods longitudinal investigation. International Psychogeriatrics, 30, 409-423.