Section A reviews whether arts-based activities for people with a dementia (PWD) have significant cognitive, social, and psychological benefits for this population. There is a variety of theoretical perspectives on dementia that encompass the biological, psychological, and social effects of the disease on the wellbeing of PWD. Visual arts may be an appropriate way of addressing some of the challenges that PWD face by providing a means of ameliorating some of their cognitive, social, and psychological difficulties. Literature from the field of arts-based activities with PWD suggests that there is no apparent theoretical conceptualisation in the area, as most studies have attempted to evaluate various art programmes with no clear rationale for expected findings; rather, they have taken a more exploratory stance. However, they indicate that arts-based activities can have social and psychological benefits by increasing confidence, enthusiasm, enjoyment, social contact, mood, quality of life, and ratings of depression. The review concludes with a rationale for why it is important to expand the current evidence base on arts-based activities for PWD.
Section B: Dementia refers to a variety of diseases that are characterised by cognitive difficulties and an overall decline in daily living skills. Arts and health interventions may be particularly valuable ways of improving the lives of PWD and their family carers. This exploratory study involved six people with mild to moderate dementia and six family carers attending an arts-based intervention at a major London art gallery for three sessions over three weeks, in which they engaged in art-viewing and art-making. Using audio recordings to record PWDs’ responses, rather than standardised measures, which are often problematic with this population, the study sought to explore possible changes in cognition of PWD during the intervention, namely episodic memory and verbal fluency. Using a mixed methods design, data were collected at five points and analysed using content and thematic analyses. The findings suggested that episodic memory and verbal fluency appeared to improve during the art gallery-based intervention. This was substantiated by family carers who also reported that PWD showed increased mood, confidence and social interaction, and that they valued the shared experience and learning opportunity. Whether these changes can be attributed to the intervention is a matter for further research beyond this exploratory study. Future research is proposed to further understand the implications of these preliminary findings.
Section C presents a critical appraisal of the research. Research skills that have been learned and developed over the course of the process are discussed, such as increased awareness of the benefits of working within a wider research community. There is consideration of the need to communicate clearly and sensitively with other professionals from differing backgrounds and organisations, as well as the importance of building on a coherent evidence base when designing a research project. Better organisation relating to recruitment and investigation into recording during the art-viewing sessions at the gallery are identified as aspects that would be done differently, as well as consideration of using a case study approach. Clinical consequences of the research are discussed, such as utilising a community psychology approach and involving art and creativity in therapeutic sessions. Finally, further research in the area is considered, such as by expanding the study and using robust neuropsychological measures to detect cognitive change.