Can art improve life for people with dementia and their carers?

  • If so, how does it do this?
  • And can it help people with dementia stay connected to their communities?
  • Can it help their communities become more dementia friendly?
  • Might there even be financial benefits for the UK?

These are questions we hope to find answers to through our Dementia and Imagination research. We are looking at how art can make a difference for people with dementia living at home, being assessed by the NHS and living in care homes - and in three different parts of the UK.

Why is this research needed?

  • Maintaining quality of life and well being are crucial for people with dementia and their carers
  • There has been an upsurge in interest in the positive effects engagement in the arts can have for people with dementia and the communities around them
  • This can help change awareness and understanding about dementia, to enable people to ‘live well’ in dementia supportive communities – as a normal part of everyday life

So this research aims to explore how the vision for dementia supportive communities might benefit from creative activities.

What is different about this research?

A number of research studies have identified the benefits of creative engagement in art programmes for people with dementia. These include quality of life, well being, cognitive and communication benefits. However, these studies usually had three limitations:

  • Often reliant on case studies, which have both strengths and weaknesses as evidence  
  • Focused on the outcomes for individuals rather than communities
  • Not demonstrating the wider economic and social value of arts interventions

This research project aims to address all three areas – by using robust methodology, to consider the outcomes for communities as well as individuals, and demonstrate the wider economic and social value of art interventions.

Another major strength is that the research crosses traditional boundaries and draws on expertise from arts, humanities, health and social sciences.

It looks at how participation in community arts interventions can increase well-being and connectedness between the dementia community and wider society. It also examines the underlying processes that create the connection between arts participation and positive outcomes.

Art is central to this work. We are developing and delivering a programme of visual arts activity (known in research as an ‘intervention’) for people with dementia, which builds on good practice from around the world. We are also measuring the effectiveness of the activity. Artists are working with the research teams, using their skills to capture their interpretation of the research process and the findings.

We will use the art produced in exhibitions and workshops, to stimulate debate and challenge perceptions of what it might be like to live with memory difficulties.

Where is the research taking place?

In three ethnically and geographically different areas of the UK and in three different settings:

  • Residential care in the North East
  • NHS Derbyshire Trust hospitals
  • Private/rented housing in North Wales

– aiming to obtain data from up to 450 participants and respondents.

How is the research being conducted?

In each area our project partners are delivering the same type of visual arts intervention over an agreed period to different groups.

We aim to understand the impact of visual arts for well being; and also its impact for connectivity (in communities of interest, communities of practice and communities of place); to understand its economic value; and to maximise the impact of the research by engaging with a wide range of stakeholders.

Who is undertaking the research?

The project team draws on expertise from six universities, four national and seven regional organisations – supported by a wider range of interested organisations.

Who is funding the research?

The research is jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council under the Connected Communities Programme.

How are we measuring the impact of the research?

The research assesses changes over time in the well-being and social connectedness of people with dementia. It also assesses how these changes can in turn have positive effects in communities (facilitating change in societal attitudes and promoting participation and inclusion) through social contagion.

What research approaches is this project employing?

These include a range of research methods to test the individual, social and economic impact. Data is being collected through quantitative and qualitative interviews, online surveys and systematic observation, some repeated at 3 time points to enable changes to be ascertained.A cost-benefit/return on investment is also being undertaken.

Research artists are capturing their interpretation of the study, action research with artistic output is aiming to challenge perceptions, and knowledge exchange activities aim to maximise the impact of the research.

So this is a project which is novel, timely and significant:

  • Novel - overcoming the limitations identified in previous research
  • Timely - given the national target to create 20 dementia friendly communities in England by 2015
  • Significant - given the opportunity this presents to help address the challenge dementia presents to individuals, families, communities, governments and health and social care providers. 


Imagining Dementia Friendly Futures 2016

What was our contribution to the 2016 Connected Communities Festival?

Find out more here.

The Cruel Sea

5 minute film by Kate Sweeney, Claire Ford and residents of a residental home in Sunderland 

Our research explained - Interview with Dr Gill Windle

What are we researching, why, where and how?






Contact us

 Research Team

 (0) 1248 383 050

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   


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