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Dementia and the arts: enriching the Canberra community

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 1 June 2017 0

While always rewarding, it can be disheartening working in the area of dementia. At times the statistics can overwhelm you. After all, dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia and there is no cure. Today there are more than 4000 people in the ACT living with dementia, and this number is rising daily. There is significant stigma faced by those living with the disease, and social isolation and loneliness are realities for many people living with dementia and their families who are supporting them. Across the community, there is a lack of understanding about what dementia even is, let alone what we can do about it.

So, imagine if I told you there was a pill you could take that helped your mental health, your physical health and your social connection after a diagnosis of dementia? Imagine if this pill could increase your ability to connect with those you love, reduce levels of anxiety and depression and enable you to tap into your abilities and talents throughout your journey through dementia.

And what if I told you, you didn’t even need a pill.

It turns out that connecting with the arts, and pursuing creative endeavour, have the potential to do all that I have just described, and more. As well as increasing mental health, wellbeing and physical mobility, research has found that artistic expression such as music can awaken parts of the brain not impacted dementia, and evoke responses and create opportunities to reconnect with loved ones. In some cases, creative ability can even be enhanced after a diagnosis.

These discoveries have led Alzheimer’s Australia ACT (AAACT) to invest in the development of a dementia and the arts strategy that has the vision of inspiring the lives of people with dementia and their carers in the ACT and increase their opportunities for enhanced well-being, quality of life and social interaction through integrating the arts into the design and delivery of all programs and services. AAACT arts-based programs will support people living with dementia and their carers through all stages of the disease and provide opportunities to connect with this program, regardless of their physical or cognitive capacity or their residential status. AAACT hopes to provide comprehensive programs in the community, within the cultural institutions we are so lucky to host in our city, in people’s homes, and in residential care facilities.

AAACT has started shaping programs to deliver these aims, and last week launched the Dementia and the Arts Program in a moving event at the National Portrait Gallery. The launch provided the opportunity to showcase some of the early work of the program including the breathtaking Alchemy Chorus, Canberra’s first dementia friendly working choir that is led by the choir founder Brian Triglone, and includes people with dementia, their carers, and volunteers. The Vivacity Dance Group, a collaboration with Belconnen Arts Centre and led by creative director Philp Piggin, also performed during the night. There was also an auction of artistic works from artists participating in Alzheimer’s Australia ACT’s visual arts program which included works using a variety of artistic styles and subjects.

The work to date is just a taste of what can be achieved to enhance the lives of people with dementia, their families, and the whole community. A key aim of the launch was to invite individuals and groups to provide their support for growing the program into new activity areas.

What do you think the potential is of the Dementia and the Arts program in improving the lives of people with dementia?

More information regarding the Dementia and the Arts Program and the other work of Alzheimer’s Australia ACT can be found at https://act.fightdementia.org.au/

Photos in this post come from the Dementia and the Arts launch recently and includes art created by participants of the Dementia and the Arts Program and photos of the performances of the Alchemy Chorus and Vivacity Dance Group. The logo for the program was developed by Les Makai.

Rebecca Vassarotti is the interim CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia ACT.

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