The Benefits Of Creative Arts For People With Cognitive Impairment


Girl with Downs Syndrome Painting

The arts are a critical component of healthcare. Expressive art is a tool to explore, develop and practice creativity as a means to wellness.” ~ Wellarts Association


Inspired by an article published on The Healing Power of Art and Artists about how art enhances brain function and wellbeing, we had a deeper look into this phenomenon. We came across many interesting facts and would like to share our findings with you.


Any form of art gives us a feeling of joy and boosts a good mood - from playing music to dancing, doodling in a notebook, and cooking. Artwork makes us relaxed and inspired, it reduces the stress hormone and encourage the hormones of happiness in our brains.


Live-in Carers make sure that every need of your loved ones is met – they assist in washing, dressing, prepare nutritional meals, and much more. They also encourage their clients to take part in various activities which stimulate their physical and mental health, such as singing in communal quires, reading, painting and knitting.


For many years scientists carried out various research to find out what exactly happens in our brains when we are exposed to artwork, and whether “art treatment” can be used for people with cognitive disabilities.


This research have provided scientists with a sufficient amount of information to prove that participating in arts activities has a positive impact on social and emotional development, and overall wellbeing. Art enhances brain function, has an impact on the nervous system, and can actually raise serotonin (hormone of happiness) levels.


Research has proven that creative art improves neural systems that produce a broad spectrum of benefits ranging from fine motor skills to creativity, and improved emotional balance. Art can change the way a person sees the world and their place in this world. In simple terms, the value of art is incredibly important for each and every of us. It enables us function properly individually and as a society.


People with cognitive disabilities have difficulties expressing their views and can manifest psychological and behavioural symptoms, and continuity of this and similar research is crucial.


Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) based in Swindon, has been recently awarded to carry out a pioneering new research project which will address the impact of diagnosis on the bonds between people with young onset dementia and their caregivers using creative approaches.


The study will be led by the University of Derby in collaboration with the University of Northampton to find out the impact of a series of arts in health workshops for people with younger onset dementia and their caregivers on the quality of their life, family relationships and ability to manage a dementia diagnosis.


The main engagement of the participants, including the Carers, will be through music, dance, and museums. These activities have been widely used to support older people with dementia. Live-in Carers reinforced these and similar programme while caring after their Clients either in their own homes or in care homes. Unfortunately, there has been little focus on using the arts for those under the age of 65 who live in the community.

The study will consist of a series of 10-weekly arts-based workshops. Researchers at Derby and Northampton will invite two groups of five pairs, a person diagnosed with younger onset dementia and their Carers/caregivers, to attend. A range of activities, including drama, role-play, storytelling, sound and music making, movement and rhythm, will be used to create images, scenes and stories. The arts-based workshops are based on a method called Neuro Dramatic Play (NDP) developed by pioneering drama and play therapy Professor Sue Jennings. NDP is an attachment-based model that builds resilience and the ability to cope using creative play.


The workshops will be supported by drama, dance and storytelling experts, as well as a volunteering dementia expert from Dementia UK. The potential for these arts techniques to be used at home - with the aid of a personalised toolkit which will also be explored by the project.


The project will run for two years and is expected to be completed in March 2024.


We put together the some positive comments from the experts involved in the study:


Dr Clive Holmwood, Lead Investigator for the project and Associate Professor in the Discipline of Therapeutic Arts at the University of Derby: “Myself and co-investigator Dr Gemma Collard-Stokes, are really looking forward to working collaboratively with this important group of people and the University of Northampton on this arts-based research, which will meaningfully support the attachment between the carer and the person being cared for. Our hope is to take our findings from this initial project and continue to develop this research and toolkit to develop so it can have further national and international impact.”

Dr Alison Ward, Associate Professor in Health Research at the University of Northampton: “I’m delighted that this important piece of research with the University of Derby is underway. When we think of dementia we tend to picture older people and their carers and the impact dementia can have on them. But dementia can have equally devastating outcomes for younger people and those who care for them. We hope this important research will improve our understanding of the role art can play in supporting younger people diagnosed with dementia.”