Study on impact of art on dementia

A collaboration between the Brain and Mind Centre, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and Alzheimer’s Australia NSW will lead a study on the impact of art on people living with dementia.

Head of the Centre’s Healthy Brain Ageing Program, Prof Sharon Naismith, said while art programs are usually designed to enhance creativity or appreciation of art, this program will study the impact that learning art can have on the brain, particularly visuospatial cognitive skills and memory.

“Creating and viewing art has long been associated with improvement in mood, socialisation and reminiscence, and quality of life.

“However, there has been no substantial research to date, to evaluate art’s impact on cognitive performance, and therefore if art can have a beneficial impact on people living with dementia,” Prof Naismith said.

The MCA, a national leader in creative learning practice, runs an ‘Art & Dementia Program’ which offers creative hands-on activities for people with dementia.

The program seeks to demonstrate and celebrate older people’s capacity for learning, critical thinking and intellectual engagement, while advocating for the proven health benefits of these activities, including wellbeing, self-esteem and social inclusion, and the potential for attenuating the onset of dementia.

The Healthy Brain Ageing team will study 120 participants, aged under 75 and living with dementia, as they participate in a 10 week combined MCA facilitated and at-home art program.

“We’ll examine improvements on neuropsychological markers of visuospatial functioning, and examine the relationship between memory and learning in adults with dementia compared with a waitlist control condition,” Prof Naismith said.

Dementia prevalence in Australia is expected to triple to almost one million people by 2050.

Prof Naismith said it was well recognised that early intervention programs, and strategies to prevent disease progression and increase the wellbeing of ‘at risk’ patients, was urgently required.

She said this collaboration was an exciting opportunity to bring together leaders in a diversity of fields to examine whether community-based programs can fill this void and provide an effective and enjoyable method to reduce the incidents and impacts of dementia.

“As well as the clinical predictors of benefit associated with an art program, we’ll look to determine whether the program is associated with improvement in general wellbeing for people living with dementia and reduce the burden for their carers,” she said.

Funding for the study was awarded by the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation in late 2015.

The study will start in March 2016, with recruitment expected over the following 18 months.

27 February 2016.