A few years back I became a volunteer for a program for people living with dementia in residential facilities. Called 'Connections' it used discussion based tours of artworks, as a means to connect participants in a shared activity through interpretation, memories and personal insights. This had, and continues, to show a direct benefit to participant's mental well-being. Through discussion and interpretation of works of art, participants are able to reconnect with their sense of identity and communicate to their optimum cognitive capacity.
I was reminded of this volunteering, after I saw the extraordinary take up of a course I deliver called ‘Enhance Creativity With Art Based Practices’, which I’m offering on a number of online platforms.
I wondered whether the take up of this short course was due to Covid lockdown restrictions and the momentum around craft and art based activities we’ve seen over the past 2 years.
While evidence based research takes time to show the health impacts, there are numerous recent studies demonstrating the mental and neurological benefits of art and craft based activities.
Further research is also pointing to the benefits being evidenced from the social connections that art and craft gatherings enable. For those who are ill or may suffer from social anxiety or are just shy, the strength of these activities is in the coming together, enabling individuals to participate collectively. Either way it’s recognised that to distract from an uncomfortable or stressful focus is in itself a valuable outcome.
Our family has been touched by dementia so my approach to this is deeply personal. This is an illness and while it manifests differently it includes many dramatic outcomes of loss...memory, rationality, social skills and emotional reactions. My participation in this volunteer program helped me, as well as the participants, connect with what many of us take for granted.. our memory and language.
It lead me to deeply reconsider a fundamental question : If we are not our memories , then what are we?
I love being a witness to the joy, growing confidence , silence and sometimes even animation of the participants to pieces of modern and contemporary art so carefully chosen by the coordinator and volunteers. I know that as soon as they leave on the bus to go back to their residential care facilities they'll probably not remember anything of their visit, and there's no evidence that the program provides any lasting effects. But it also reminds me to value and appreciate the moment and that's worth promoting.
Connections is delivered by Bayside City Council at the Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre. This program is based on one instigated by the National Gallery Australia and many regional galleries are creating their own programs.
Training in this program is highly recommended. My training was delivered by an experienced program coordinator from the NGA, facilitated by Bayside Council.
This is a growing area of interest across health professionals, care providers and the arts community so if you're interested I recommend contacting Bayside Council and check out the resource list below.
This provides a comprehensive summary through a self-paced format and includes a presentation video and a summary of video transcript.