UK HealthCare

How Can Art Help Patients with Dementia?

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 1, 2016) — Dementia is a "family disease." The patient, their loved ones and their caregivers are all affected. 

Dementia refers to a decline of cognitive health that interferes with everyday life. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most recognizable form of dementia, but many other conditions can also affect cognitive health. There is no cure for AD, and almost all patients with dementia will eventually require constant care from a caregiver or loved one. In 2015, there were 5.3 million Americans suffering from this devastating disease.

In the creation of art, multiple aspects of learning take place and multiple domains related to learning are engaged, including focus and concentration, problem-solving skills, tolerance to ambiguity, image and concept formation, imagination, and visual-spatial thinking, just to name a few. On top of that, feelings and emotional sensitivities are involved in producing a work of art, as well as important motor skills like hand-eye coordination.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky are looking further into the notion that visual arts can have a positive effect on patients with mild to moderate dementia. This study will also explore the potential effects on the patient's caregiver.

By having participants create art  such as drawing, sculpture, and/or paper mache, we hope to enhance problem solving skills, focus/concentration, and hand-eye coordination. We also hope to see an improvement in mood and in overall thinking, all of which contribute significantly to quality of life.

This study will be eight weeks long and will meet once a week at the School of Arts and Visual Studies. Each session will last about an hour and a half.  Participation in the study, including all art materials, is free of charge. To be involved in this study the patient must live at home, have intact hearing/vision, and have mild to moderate dementia. The caregiver needs to have at least ten contact hours a week with the patient and be able to accompany and assist the patient during the study.

If you would like to know more about the study, contact Dr. Allan Richards, 859-361-1483 or Ann Christianson-Tietyen, 859-312-4553.

Ann Christianson-Tietyen is an Instructor of Art Education in the University of Kentucky School of Art and Visual Studies

This column appeared in the January 31, 2016 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader.