Inconclusive findings on the effects of art therapy for people with dementia

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Art therapy for people with dementia


Dementia is a common condition that affects people’s memory. It can also affect people’s thinking, emotions and behaviour. Dementia has a major impact on health and society across the world. Some types of treatment other than medication may help people with dementia.

Art therapy is a type of psychological therapy, which means a treatment for problems of the mind and behaviour. Art can be used as a way to express and communicate thoughts and feelings. The aim of art therapists is to work with patients in ways that help them change and ‘grow’ on a personal level. This is done by using art materials in a safe environment that allows this process.

Study Characteristics

We looked at research trials of people with dementia doing art therapy, compared with usual care and other activities. We looked at effects of art therapy on memory and thinking, emotions, well-being, social behaviour and quality of life. We also looked at negative effects and costs of art therapy. We found two research studies with a total of 88 older people taking part. There were results for 60 people. One study compared groups doing art therapy or simple calculation activities over 12 weeks. The other study compared groups doing art therapy or recreational activities over 40 weeks. The evidence is current to October 2017.

Key Results

These two studies found no clear changes in memory or most other outcomes looked at when comparing art therapy to other activities.

Quality of the Evidence

The studies were limited by many factors that reduced the quality of findings – considered ‘very low’ with well-known methods for evaluating this. Each study used different types of art therapy. This made it difficult to look at all the results together. One study had a high rate of people not completing the research trial. The studies included small numbers of people, which makes it difficult to be sure how accurate the findings are. This also makes it difficult to know if the effects will be the same in more people. Art therapy is difficult to test for its effects.

More research is needed on this topic. There is not enough information from research trials about the effects of art therapy for people with dementia. This review suggests ways to do this.