Creative Endeavors Can Help People Living with Dementia

Elderly woman sing a song with daughter at home.

Most people are familiar with the power of the arts to transform lives and alter one’s perception of the world. Many of us have had the experience of having a book, movie, or play provide a springboard for future dreams and aspirations. Most of us have experienced what it’s like to have a favorite song or painting transport us to a different place and time.

It’s no different for people living with dementia. The creative arts are quickly becoming a proven therapy to boost memory and serve as an outlet for those with communication challenges to express themselves.

Music is a particularly powerful medium. Studies have shown that music engages broad neural networks in the brain, including areas responsible for emotions and creativity. A study at the Boston University School of Medicine discovered that people living with Alzheimer’s were better able to remember new information when it was provided in the context of a song. Interestingly, the study was also conducted on healthy older adults and, for them, there was no such benefit. Researchers at the University of Helsinki showed that singing helped enhance both cognitive skills and emotional well-being for those in the early stages of dementia. Listening to music was found to have cognitive benefits for those with more advanced dementia.

Painting is becoming a very popular form of art therapy and was highlighted in the documentary film “I Remember Better When I Paint,” which depicts numerous instances of people living with dementia who have transformative experiences when they pick up a paint brush.

It has long been known that for people of every age, the act of creating is life enhancing and nourishing to the human spirit. For older adults, research demonstrates that participating in artistic expression provides many benefits.

Self-Expression / Emotional Well-being

Creating something new allows people to announce “This is who I am. This is what I have to say.” Expressive art can provide vivid access to memories, and is a useful starting point for reminiscence and life review. The act of creating allows us another way to share our lives and receive validation for who we are.


People who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally are often able to communicate through visual means. For people living with dementia, autism or other conditions that create barriers to verbal communication, visual art can provide an alternative.

Intellectual Stimulation

The act of creating is a great way to exercise the brain. Deciding what media to use, what to draw or paint, and where to put the first line all provide mental exercise. An art project can represent a stimulating challenge to be met, increasing orientation and awareness.


Visiting a museum or going to the theater allows people to have a shared experience and may induce them to share their feelings and emotions with others.