Does recreation and art really improve the lives of people with dementia? A recent study set out to answer this question, to see if it’s about more than fun and games. Their findings show that these activities indeed are a fantastic way to assist in dementia care, with many benefits.

A study on innovative dementia care

A facility that cares for dementia patients in Liverpool, UK, recently acquired the services of artists to implement a trial program in recreational therapy for dementia care. A facility hired 6 acclaimed artists for a 6 month program where they created various workshops for residents. There were more than 70 workshops overall, and they covered all types of art forms, from art and music to dancing and sculpting. The residents of the facility were evaluated before the program and after, and the findings were very positive. 

There were high participation frates, residents showed higher cognitive abilities, and there was a great social impact, with previously isolated people coming together to enjoy the activities.

The facility’s administration is thrilled with the results, and plan to implement what they are calling the “artist in residency” program at their other facilities.

What are the benefits?

These benefits have been shown through many other models as well, and programs are being developed to give patients the opportunities these activities can afford them.

  • The most obvious benefit of the model is happier patients. Therapists report great engagement of the patients, as they begin the program and then as they continue to enjoy their activities.  
  • Greater connection. Therapists say that many of these patients can’t keep track of time and don’t always remember who they are or who other people are, but they often remember the therapist – they identify that person with something that gave them pleasure, and they’re faster to engage with that person again.
  • Better ways to spend their time. People who don’t have dementia are able to work and to figure out how to spend their time appropriately. With recreational therapy, they’re given the gift of doing something enjoyable and productive in a fun and social way. 
  • Dementia patients are not always able to enjoy the relationships they had in the past. But in a communal recreational therapy environment, they can enjoy doing things with other people.
  • Several studies have found that recreational therapies can improve cognitive function in dementia patients. 

How to take advantage of this model

Anyone dealing with dementia patients can implement this model. There are several ways to do it. As seen in the Liverpool study, you need a skilled artist, and varying the workshops will increase the amount of people interested in the activities.  But a smaller scale will also bring improvement; you don’t need 70 to make a difference.

Another option is bringing the activities to the patient – even in a home setting. There are social service organizations that send artists of different types to the patient’s home. Many dementia patients are able to live at home with an aide or a family member around and don’t require the full time care of a skilled nursing facility. 

A third way to do this is to bring the patient to a senior care center or a facility with a day program, where there are often many creative options to bring out the art in the patient.