Arts can change the lives of early dementia sufferers

The arts have real power to change the lives of early dementia sufferers, a groundbreaking new study has found.

Reawakening the mind, a report from London-based charity Arts 4 Dementia, has provided crucial evidence that performance can change the lives of those suffering from the debilitating illness.

A group of 41 early dementia sufferers aged between 66 and 91 took part in visual art, music, dance, theatre, poetry, photography and media workshops, resulting in a total of 93 assessments.

The study – one of the first to examine the effects of multiple art forms on early dementia sufferers – found that 99 per cent of participants felt fulfilled through their creative achievement.

Of the participants, 89 per cent said they felt more confident and 75 per cent felt more energetic and keener to socialise.

Veronica Franklin Gould, Arts 4 Dementia chief executive, told IAM the study’s findings were ‘extraordinary’.

‘The participants were reawakened to art, to culture, and to life in society,’ she said. ‘Feelings of anxiety, frustration and anger were absent; you never saw a sign of that because they were happy and engaged the whole time.’

Gould hopes the report will encourage arts organisations and venues to offer education and outreach workshops for dementia sufferers. Arts 4 Dementia offers guidance and training for venue staff and arts practitioners.

‘I believe everyone should have that training,’ she said. ‘There aren’t huge communications differences when working with dementia sufferers, people don’t have to change their working practice a great deal but there are a few elements that are really valuable to know.’

For example, workshop leaders should address individuals by name rather than a general and communal invitation to a particular activity. Gould added: ‘We hope that arts organisations will run a series of these energising workshops, allowing participants to work as an ensemble and become friends, which fights the isolation associated with dementia. [Offering workshops is] also very good for the arts organisations’ funding, because it’s introducing a new audience, it’s bringing people back into society. It’s a very good fundraising tool.’

Reawakening the mind, which was launched at a symposium at the Royal Society of Medicine on 20 May and details guidelines and advice, is available to download at the Arts 4 Dementia website.