The Arts in Healthcare – Health Benefits

There has been increasing use of the arts in healthcare over the last 20 years. This has resulted in a number of health benefits for patients – including reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, length of hospital stay and perception of pain.

For patients with mental health problems benefits have included improved communication skills, self esteem and behavioural change.

That’s according to a 2004 review of research findings for the Arts Council England

Art for People with Dementia – Three Approaches

Three main approaches have been used with people with dementia (you can find more information on our choice here):

Observing and discussing art work, like the Meet me at MoMa project at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

Creating art work, for example the Equal Arts projects in care homes in the North East of England. These are described in the Creative Homes report from the Baring Foundation, National Care Forum and National Association of Activity Providers for Older People.

Observing and discussing art work and then creating art work. This combines viewing and making art. Like the Viewing Together  project at the  Nottingham Contemporary and Dulwich picture gallery.

These focus on enjoyment and being 'in the moment,' being creative and making social connections.

Does Art make a difference for People with Dementia? 

A tentative answer would be yes – and for both observing and creating art. Both people with dementia and their carers often report benefits, such as improved quality of life.

For example, an 8 week viewing and making art programme suggested well being benefits that included feeling more socially included, self reports of enhanced cognitive capacities for people with dementia and an improved quality of life.

However, the evidence so far isn’t as robust as it might be. For example the research so far has often been through local initiatives, in different settings (from care homes to galleries) and for varying lengths of time. Sometimes there have been different objectives (some more creative, some more therapeutic), different types of art intervention (painting, drawing or different types of craftwork) and varying degrees of evaluation (with qualitative rather than quantitative approaches tending to produce more positive results). This makes it difficult to compare like with like when reviewing the research undertaken so far.

A further question is whether it is the art or the social interaction involved or a combination of the two which is having the effect.

The focus of research has also, perhaps understandably, been on the individuals participating and their carers, rather than on any wider impact or benefits. For instance there hasn’t  usually been any health economics or social return on investment analysis.

Art and Dementia Research – The Next Steps?

The Dementia and Imagination research study aims to address some of the gaps in the evidence. In particular, we’re:

  • Employing more comprehensive research methods, with a common approach across three different settings (people with dementia in care homes, in an NHS assessment unit and living in the community).
  • Looking at the wider impact, for communities where people with dementia live.
  • Assessing the financial implications of art interventions.

Through our research we hope to improve the evidence for the use of art with people living with dementia  - and to provide findings of interest and value to people with dementia and their carers, artists and health and social care professionals.

We also aim to provide art work which challenge the stigma of dementia and showcase the creative abilities of those with this condition.


Living with dementia in the community

Understanding the impact of art  

Dementia and Imagination commissioned a short film produced by SSP Media - to share with a wider audience a sense of the art groups that were conducted for the research. The film focused on the art groups run in community venues and the experience of one of the art group members.

How art can help make connections

Examples of art work from patients with the Derbyshire Community Mental Health NHS Trust - facilitated by artists from the Nottingham Contemporary.

Exhibited in Chesterfield in November 2015.  

Art and Dementia - Further Reading

Art Therapies and Dementia Care – A systematic review

Arts, Health and Well Being – Royal Society for Public Health

Creative Homes – The Baring Foundation, National Care Forum and NAPA

An Evidence Review of the Impact of Participatory Arts

Impact of Arts Participation on Health Outcomes for Older Adults

Reawakening the Mind – Arts 4 Dementia

Viewing and Making Art Together – for people with dementia and their carers