Dementia doesn’t diminish creativity

Anne Basting, director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, has pioneered arts and creative writing programs for older adults living with dementia. She believes it is important for keeping them active and engaged.

“People look at dementia as loss and deficit. They never assume people with dementia can grow or learn anything [but] that’s what we’re witnessing: growth and expression and skill-building,” she  told HealthDay.

Gay Hanna, executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging, in Washington, D.C, agrees: “[Humans] have this enormous capacity to learn, and the arts are so intrinsic within us that even with dementia we still retain that ability for imagination and creativity.”

Each area of the arts – writing, music, dance, drama and painting – provide their own particular benefit. Writing allows those with dementia to avoid traditional language and situations where they may be at a loss for a particular word, while still being able to tell their story using their own metaphors. Through these stories, they can reveal how they view the world, which can help loved ones and caregivers alike. And since dance, singing and drama are by nature physical, they provide important health benefits for older adults by getting them up and keeping them active.

And all forms of creativity foster an important sense of community and may slow the progression of dementia by curbing the isolation that many older people face – and which leads to a more rapid decline.

“People always [want to know if] this improves cognitive functioning [but] why would there be an expectation that arts should do this or that? There are basic improvements in well-being, a sense of belonging, a sense of self, a sense of mastery and skill-building and growing in the moment… We’re improving quality of life as long as possible. That’s pretty significant,” Basting continued.

She noted a variety of communities have come to her looking for suggestions on how to engage with the senior community on an artistic level, from museum education programs looking to serve their aging members to firefighters looking for programs to teach them how to interact positively with dementia patients.