"You have this release of creativity": The artistic new approach to combating dementia


In the next few years dementia will become the number one killer in Australia.

As sufferers lose memory and ability, it's hard to imagine there could be any silver lining.

But a ground-breaking new study has found that for some, dementia unleashes a wave of creativity and gives sufferers a whole new lease on life.

“Dementia is a terrible disorder,” says Associate Professor Olivier Piguet from Neuroscience Research Australia.

“There is a progressive loss of nerve cells and at the moment there is nothing to stop this process.

“If we look at the analogy of an orchestra, the frontal lobes being the conductor, your conductor is becoming less efficient. Part of the orchestra is starting to play different tunes.”

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The impact of this deadly disease is something Beverley Dind knows quiet intimately after she was told her mother Nola “almost certainly had Alzheimer’s Disease” and she began receiving fulltime care at Greenwood Aged Care.

“Mum gets very confused, very often,” says Beverley.

“She can't understand where she is or why she's there.

“Mum has always been quite an outgoing lady.  I never thought that anything like this would happen.

“Every day mum packs up, packs everything up. She just wants to be in her own home.

“It's not going to get any better, I realise that.”

Yet there has been an unexpected ray of hope for both Nola and Beverley, thanks to a new way to engage the minds of patients with creative exercises.

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Phil Donnison from the Arts Health Institute teaches painting to the residents of Greenwood, something that has unlocked a world of potential for those impacted by the disease.
“The Artists in the House program is a collection of forms of expressing yourself: dance, art, music, singing and humour,” he says.

“When Nola first came here she was unsettled and quite depressed and definitely didn't want to be here…

“So she started off and the results were quite profound.”

Beverley adds: “I have never known mum to pick up a paintbrush. She's never done anything like that before in her life.”

“I have never known mum to pick up a paintbrush. She's never done anything like that before in her life”

Professor Piguet says his study “found a number of patients start exhibiting new skills they previously didn’t have”.

“Again if you look at the analogy of the brain as an orchestra, you have this loss of control from the conductor.

“Then the regions of the brain that were supressed suddenly have a bit more space, you have this release of creativity and more flexibility to express themselves, if you want.”

For Nola, that has certainly been the case.

“Every time I do anything in the art field they reckon I’ve got a flair for it and I just ignore it,” she says.

“But now they’re saying don’t ignore it, do something with it. So I might take some lessons.”

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