Supporting the evidence base into the benefits of arts and health for older people

Creative Communications participant at Amherst Care Home. Image: Gary Weston
Creative Communications participant at Amherst Care Home. Image: Gary Weston

As part of our Third Age Creatives push to encourage more older people to take part in art and creativity, we supported artists Wendy Daws and Luci Napleton to carry out a Small Experiment into how creativity could support the wellbeing of people with dementia.

Wendy and Luci felt a personal connection with dementia as both have family members with the illness, however they had never worked with dementia sufferers as part of their artistic practice before.

‘In our experience, people with dementia suffer from a high level of anxiety so it seemed most fitting to carry out our pilot project within the familiar environment of a care home,’ explains Luci. ‘We had visited an Avante Care and Support Home in Medway and they were open to us working with residents there.’

The Creative Communications experiment took place over six weeks from April 2015 as part of a wider exploration into the value of stimulating arts activity for older people: edna’s journey.

Wendy and Luci worked with residents using movement, drawing, painting and embossing, and artworks were displayed at the care home for everyone to see.

Importantly, the project was evaluated along the way, in partnership with Canterbury Christchurch University, in order to inform future projects with older people with dementia.

In summary, the evaluation identified some very positive outcomes for the people involved, including behavioural improvements, increased mobility, social interaction, self esteem, mood and concentration and ultimately higher levels of wellbeing.

“These findings confirm evidence from previous studies about the benefits of nonpharmacological methods in the care of people with dementia.” Creative Communications Evaluation Report.

So, what next? The evaluation proposes that more collaborative work of this nature takes place between artists and care homes and that commissioners should consider supporting arts for health projects involving older people.

Recommendations include ensuring further collaborative work between artists and care homes takes place; the involvement of care home staff and relatives of residents in future sessions; consultation with participants prior to and throughout the intervention; and encouragement of commissioners to consider supporting arts for health projects involving older people.  

As for Wendy and Luci, they have continued their relationship with Avante, welcoming Activities Co-ordinators to Wendy’s studio fortnightly with four different residents each time. ‘We’re continuing with finger casting and spin painting for the time being and a completely different setting to the residential home. We recently met at Rochester Cathedral to view my tactile bronze sculpture and tour the Cathedral,’ says Wendy. 

If you’d like to read the evaluation of the Creative Communications project in full, you can download it here.