Research suggests art could improve older people’s health on several levels: cognitive functions, memory, sense of well-being, stress, etc. Art and health institutes alike are pushing for more answers and developing programs targeted to older people to help them improve their life through art.
How can art improve the way of life of the elderly?
Despite an increasing interest on the matter, the results of the studies conducted on the topic of art for older people are, for many, still preliminary or incomplete. So far, many studies have lacked proper control as well as sufficient samples for their results to be truly conclusive. Nevertheless, several of them have hinted that art could be a therapeutical answer to age-related disabilities. They can reduce depression, stress and anxiety.
For instance, dance could help older people coordinating movements, thus reducing the risk of falls.
Music can have a strong effect on cognitive functions: for instance, studying music can help older people distinguish speech better. Of course, artistic activities are perceived as fun ways to spend time and can improve the well-veing of the elderly. Moreover, art workshops can help the elderly to socialize and get out of isolation.
Art used as therapy for people affected by dementia
Art is already used to fight old people’s isolation and even dementia. Indeed, art can help dementia patients by enhancing communication, brain cognitive functions and social interactions. It can even trigger lost memories for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Consequently, many museums and art institutions have developed special therapeutical programs to help people suffering from dementia or neurodegenerative diseases.
Since 2005, in the United Kingdom, the Dulwich Picture Gallery had partnered with professionals from the health sector to create the Good Time programme: it is targeted to older people, whether they already have an experience in arts or not. They take in sessions of 20 participants and work with artists to create their own art.
The Courtyard was the first arts centre to join the Dementia Action Alliance (DAA) in the UK. The DAA aims to improve the way of life of people affected by dementia and their carers. To that end, the Courtyard has developed several participative art projects as well as venues directed at older people and people suffering from dementia.
In the United States, the Museum of Modern Art has developed an Alzheimer’s Project, based on the research it conducted with the association Artists for Alzheimer’s. It offers an educational programme at the museum, but also in senior centers and in assisted living facilities. It also offers or people who can’t move from their home.
In Pennsylvania, the Berman Museum of Art have shown a particular collection of art to Alzheimer’s patients, in order to test the collection for an exhibit intended for people with special needs. The experience was positive since patients started interacting with each other and felt validated through conversation and exchange.
All agree that art can have a strong positive effect on dementia patients, whether as an audience, or as creators.