Engagement in creative arts offers significant benefits to people living with dementia

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Dementia Australia has launched a discussion paper at a Federal Parliamentary Friends of Dementia event in Canberra. The paper, ‘I believe in the magic of it’: creative arts engagement, wellbeing and dementia, explores how engaging people living with dementia in the creative arts can improve their wellbeing.

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe AM said the range of benefits creative arts provides includes cognitive and physical stimulation, social engagement, creative expression, and a sense of identity and purpose. 

“Dementia is one of the most significant health and social challenges facing Australia and the world, with more than 400,000 Australians currently living with dementia,“ Ms McCabe said.

“Engagement in creative arts can offer significant benefits in dementia risk reduction and disease management.

“Carers and family members also benefit through their own involvement in arts-based activities and improved wellbeing and quality of life of the person they are supporting.”

The paper explains that an absence of a definitive disease-modifying treatment for dementia, and the limited efficacy of pharmacological approaches, has focussed the attention of researchers and practitioners on the importance of psychosocial approaches to support the wellbeing of people living with dementia. 

Researchers looking at the benefits of creative arts engagement for people living with dementia have predominantly focused on activities involving painting, listening to and making music, dancing, singing, reminiscing, storytelling, and life review.

Col and Shirley Blake have been married for 50 years and for the past seven years Shirley has lived with dementia and Col has been her carer. They have always taken part in creative activities, including working as extras in film and TV productions and jive dancing, which has become even more important since Shirley’s dementia diagnosis.

Mr Blake believes that social engagement, as much as the creative activity itself, offers them a tangible benefit.

“When we jive, Shirley hasn’t got dementia…it is something she can do without thinking about it…she gets so much enjoyment out of it. She’s more relaxed and more of her old self,” Mr Blake said.  

Dr Janet Thomas was diagnosed with dementia shortly before turning 70 and has had a lifelong fascination with reading, writing, studying and teaching literature. 

Dr Thomas has always believed in the benefits of writing and observes that her diagnosis of dementia has made her reflect on her creative practice. 

"The bottom line for me since I got my diagnosis is how do I go out into the world and show that I’m still functioning…that we still have something to contribute, we can still be creative, we can continue to be engaged," Dr Thomas said. 

Ms McCabe said the evidence in this paper should be used as a guide to ensure people living with dementia, their families and carers have access to creative art programs in their communities.

“During the event today, Dementia Australia called on Members of Parliament to use this evidence and advocate to their electorates including multicultural and business leaders to ensure people living with dementia, their families and carers have access to and are included in the development and content of arts programs," Ms McCabe said.

“It is clear that engaging in the creative arts can and does make a critical contribution to supporting the wellbeing of people living with dementia, their families and carers.”

The paper can be downloaded here

Dementia Australia is the source of trusted information, education and services for the estimated more than 400,000 Australians living with dementia, and the more than 1.5 million people involved in their care.

We advocate for positive change and support vital research. We are here to support people impacted by dementia, and to enable them to live as well as possible. No matter how you are impacted by dementia or who you are, we are here for you.

For support, please contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500. An interpreter service is available. The National Dementia Helpline is funded by the Australian Government. People looking for information can also visit dementia.org.au 


Media contacts: Gabrielle Prabhu, 0447 253 583, [email protected] 

When talking or writing about dementia please refer to Dementia-Friendly Language Guidelines.

Note to Editors:

We request, where possible, details for the National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500 appear alongside news stories about dementia, as these stories often prompt questions or concerns: 

If this story has prompted any questions or concerns, please call the National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500 (24 hours, 7 days a week) or visit dementia.org.au.