Objectives: People with dementia often have decreased opportunities to engage in higher level intellectual or sensory activities. This programme investigated the effect of taking people with dementia to discuss artworks at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).
Method: Fifteen people from the community and eight from residential care attended the gallery once a week for 6 weeks. They discussed artworks with NGA Educators trained in dementia skills. Sessions were filmed and the level of engagement analysed using time sampling methods. Focus groups with participants, carers, and educators provided qualitative data.
Results: Participants were engaged from the outset and remained engaged. They became animated, gained confidence and were able to discuss and interact with the artworks and the social process. This included the more impaired RACF groups, who were more withdrawn or behaviourally disturbed in their usual environment, raising the concept of excess disability. In focus groups these participants had impoverished memory for the programme but community participants remembered it with pleasure and wanted it to continue. Carers confirmed these sentiments but reported no lasting change in participants. Educators spoke mostly about what they had learned, including new ways to present to other clients.
Conclusion: The programme went beyond many dementia activities. Despite no evidence for lasting effects, all involved wanted the programme to continue. A carer quote: You do it for the moment encapsulates a sense that an activity is worthwhile even if it gives benefit only whilst running. The programme is continuing and expanding.