Patients with dementias commonly experience neuropsychiatric symptoms that diminish their quality of life. Pharmacologic treatments for these symptoms are limited in their efficacy. In the absence of near-future prospects for a cure for degenerative dementias, treatments that improve neuropsychiatric symptoms and quality of life are needed. We explore the hypothesis that art therapy is useful in dementia by reviewing the extant literature. With appropriate structure, patients with dementia can produce and appreciate visual art. Case studies and several small trials suggest that art therapy engages attention, provides pleasure, and improves neuropsychiatric symptoms, social behavior, and self-esteem. Whether these benefits generalize beyond the studio remains unknown. We offer a theoretical framework that motivates the use of art therapy and propose that clinical enquiry to establish methods, assess efficacy, and define optimal conditions for the use of art therapy in Alzheimer's and other dementing disorders is timely.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; art therapy; behavioral neurology; flow theory; frontotemporal dementia; neuropsychiatry.