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Study Reveals Art Alleviates Anxiety in Dementia Patients

Study Reveals Art Alleviates Anxiety in Dementia Patients

While many of us know that viewing art can be both a fun and relaxing experience, how many of us know that it can in fact make a difference in the lives of those suffering from Dementia? Dementia brings about memory loss, reduced social skills and cognitive ability, which can bring about feelings of loneliness and anxiety as social interactions become more and more difficult to deal with.

A study by Dr Gail Kenning of the University of Technology, Sydney for the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s art access program entitled ‘Arts engagement for people with Dementia’, has found that viewing art for those with Dementia brings about an enjoyable, sociable and stimulating experience with their peers, carers and gallery staff.

The study was a look into the art gallery’s art access programme, which opens up sections of the gallery specifically for dementia patients to view certain works of art. Artworks chosen for the study included both international and Australian pieces and according to Dr Kenning, “did not focus on memory, and whether people living with Dementia remembered their engagement with art, but recognised the positive impact of ‘in the moment’ pleasure of experiencing art and of feeling valued, supported, acknowledged, and challenged. This experience of pleasure impacted people with Dementia as well as carers and family members”.

Participants in the study had varying symptoms of Dementia, from small moments of memory loss, all the way to speech loss and limited cognitive ability. While some participants may not have been able to verbally express themselves, both their carers and the researchers were able to pick up visual cues of excitement, happiness and enjoyment. Heather Whitely-Robertson, head of learning and participation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, noticed the following: “behaviours like laughter and smiling, leaning forward to listen, sharing of personal meaning, sometimes reminiscence, but not always, very much an experience about in the present or in the moment joy.”

people sitting in art gallery

The biggest conclusion of the study found that while participants with Dementia may not have explicitly remembered their previous visits to the gallery, they retained the positive feelings associated with the outing. The study further explains: “There was an observed familiarity, ease, and speed of response for some attendees, who had been to the gallery on several occasions before, but who were not able to provide any details about specific visits. Therefore, this study shows that the Art Gallery of New South Wales Art Access Program provides opportunities for experiences in the ‘here and now’ and ‘in the moment’ pleasure that can have an impact on people with Dementia even when the events are no longer remembered.”

The study further explains that the experience of viewing art brings a level of normalcy to the lives of those living with the Dementia. The time spent browsing around the gallery affords them the opportunity to stop trying to remember past details, events or snippets of information, but rather to just enjoy the present moment of viewing and discussing what they see before them with those around them. No judgement of incorrect facts or statements is passed, and no tasks laid before them to remember people or places. They are able to simply view art and comment on it as and how they see fit.

Currently there are an estimated 447,115 Australians living with dementia, and it is the biggest cause of disability in Australians aged 65 years and older. Additionally 52% of those in aged care residences suffer with Dementia. With the majority of those requiring aged care dealing with the effects and symptoms of the disease, it is enlightening to know that there is a way for these patients to still experience moments of joy and relaxation without the need to desperately remember snippets of information or try to articulate themselves when these are difficult tasks. If you or a loved are experiencing the symptoms of this disease, a trip to your nearest art gallery might just be the perfect weekly outing to help relieve ongoing feelings of anxiety and stress.

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