It's not just writing programs and storytelling but also dance, music and painting, each of which provides its own particular benefit.
Writing, for instance, allows the person with dementia to bypass the world of traditional language, where they may not get the right word at the right time, and slip into their own world of metaphor, Basting explained.
"It's a benefit to us all because we learn to see the world differently," she said.
Dance, drama and singing are all very physical, and so have an impact on physical health, added Hanna.
All of these forms of artistic expression foster a sense of community, and may even slow the progression of the disease by breaking through the isolation that can quicken decline.
"People always [want to know if] this improves cognitive functioning [but] why would there be an expectation that arts should do this or that?" said Basting, who is author of the book, "Forget Memory." She added, "There are basic improvements in well-being, a sense of belonging, a sense of self, a sense of mastery and skill-building and growing in the moment... We're improving quality of life as long as possible. That's pretty significant."
Basting said she's received inquiries about senior-oriented arts programming from such diverse sources as firefighters in Alabama who want to engage positively with people with dementia, to museum education programs that want to continue to serve their aging membership.
"We understand that the first impulse is to go with medicine, [but] communities are now starting to respond," she said.
Visit the National Center for Creative Aging for more on imaginative programs for seniors.
SOURCES: Anne Basting, Ph.D., director, Center on Age a
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