The benefits of music and art in dementia care

Find out why being creative with music and art could help your loved one manage their dementia symptoms

One of the most difficult challenges for people living with dementia is being able to communicate how they feel. As the illness progresses, and words become more difficult to find, art and music can become very useful ways to ease this sense of frustration.

Good to know

Research reveals that creative activities such as art and music promote the health and wellbeing of people with dementia because they
• Stimulate curiosity
• Encourage self-expression
• Increase dignity and self-worth

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Music

Many studies show that music can reduce agitation and ease challenging behaviour, providing a way to connect with the world even when verbal communication has become too difficult. Singing and music groups for people with dementia and their families are becoming increasingly popular and it’s easy to see why.

It’s a great confidence boost

Singing a song you learnt as a child is a source of delight for many people with dementia, particularly when they can remember all the words.

It’s a sociable activity

Being part of a group can ease isolation and loneliness and provide a welcome distraction from daily routine.

It’s a way to connect

Music is a very powerful emotional tool – a song can make anyone cry or laugh when it taps into a strong memory, and people with dementia are no exception.

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3 ways to use music

1. Go out: Try an organised singing group such as Singing for the Brain, a service provided by the Alzheimer’s Society which uses singing to bring people together in a friendly and stimulating social environment.

2. Make music at home: If you’re not able to attend an organised group you can still incorporate a musical activity into your daily care plan. For example, encourage the person you’re caring for to sing (use song books if necessary) clap, play a musical instrument, or dance (you could even join with them!

3. Listen and enjoy: If they’ve moved into the later stages of the illness music can still bring a great deal of passive pleasure. For example, allow your loved one to choose the music themselves from a selection of their favourite music on CD or using a one button radio. Also try using music to create or enhance a mood – if you want them to feel relaxed chose something tranquil, if you want them to feel happy, try a favourite piece from childhood.

>> SHOP: DEMENTIA TIME OF DAY CLOCKS

Art

Creating an art project can be totally absorbing for anyone. For someone with dementia, who may be feeling that they have little to offer anyone anymore, the process can be a way to restore dignity, ease anxiety, foster a sense of control and relieve boredom. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether they’ve always been a keen artist or they haven’t picked up a paint brush since childhood. Here’s why:

It’s a relaxing activity

People with dementia are often far calmer and happier after an art therapy session, and are less likely to become agitated.

It’s a way to communicate

Everything from colour and brush choice to subject matter can reveal how someone is feeling at that moment – which is invaluable if the person you’re caring for finds it difficult to talk much.

It opens the mind

Research suggests that artistic ability is often preserved in spite of the degeneration of the brain and the loss of more mundane day-to-day memory.

Did you know? Despite having a severe case of vascular dementia, internationally renowned sculptor Mary Hecht was able to draw detailed sketches and portraits all from memory in the years leading up to her death.

 3 ways to use art

1. Go out: Join an organised art group. If necessary, ones for people with dementia are available at many day centres. Or contact Arts4Dementia and find out what’s happening in your area.

2. Make art at home: Lots of dementia specific products are slowly becoming available so that you can keep the subject matter adult if possible. If not, it might not matter very much providing you try not to patronise the person you’re caring for and don’t rush them to finish. Their art work doesn’t have to be finished in one sitting.

Talk whilst you paint and encourage them to discuss what they’re painting. If they need help, or a bit of assistance, then give it but don’t take over. Remember, it’s the process itself that matters – not the end product.

3. Visit art galleries: Looking at art, talking about it and appreciating it passively has been shown in research to have a positive effect on the cognitive ability of people with dementia – it’s also very enjoyable and can help the person you’re caring for stay active and feel involved with the outside world.