Visual Art and Dementia
Visual art is good for people with dementia. When drawing, painting or making, people are not judged by the accuracy of their memories. In the domain of art everyone's work is equally valuable, and all our opinions are valid. Making art and viewing art are activities that everyone can enjoy on equal terms.
Making art permits people with dementia to be creative, and this is good for their mental health. Practising art is a respectable leisure pursuit, so this is good for self-esteem. A few people may be continuing to practise arts that they have always done; this provides continuity in their lives. Others can learn new art forms and skills; this shows them and the people around them that one can go on learning despite dementia. Doing art in groups can be especially beneficial because of the social contact and mutual support. Art requires little equipment and the materials are inexpensive by comparison with medical treatments. Art can be an infinite source of pleasure - much better than any medicine. In addition, some artists have a special talent for communicating with people with dementia. It's something to do with being non-judgemental and imaginative; they seem able to engage people without using language.
In healthcare we often talk about person-centred care. Professionals try very hard to see the person and not the disease. But this is ludicrously difficult in a clinical environment, where the professional has all the power, including the power to diagnose dementia. If we want people with dementia to be regarded first as persons and to live their own lives as they wish, we need to enable them to participate fully in society. People with dementia have a right to access the arts, like anyone else. And we have an obligation to make this possible.
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