Connecting with seniors living with dementia, through art


‘The painting gets you thinking. It’s good, because of the dementia,’ says aged care resident Amparo, laughing heartily.

‘It makes you remember!’

Amparo is one of six aged care residents visited by educators from the National Gallery of Australia at Goodwin Farrer today, for an art workshop for seniors living with dementia.

‘Art transcends language’, says Goodwin Executive Manager Residential Care, Robyn Boyd. ‘As such it can unlock memories and spark mental and emotional connections for people living with dementia.

‘Their perception of their world can be very different.’

The visit was part of the National Gallery of Australia’s Art and Dementia program, which helps people living with dementia to enjoy better quality of life and reduce the isolation the disease can bring.

The program usually comprises discussion-based tours of select works in the National Gallery of Australia. Participants are able to contribute knowledge, engage in interpretation, express emotions and recall memories.

Today, educators brought the tour to the residents, with pictures of select artworks for a guided discussion, followed by painting inspired by the samples.

It’s a lively discussion, with lots of laughter with their familiar educators. One participant says Margaret Preston’s Still Life 1925 reminds her of Collingwood football team’s colours. Another image reminds them of collecting shells on the beach. Amparo remembers art classes at school. They don’t mind expressing what they do and don’t like!

It’s a very individual experience for each participant.

90-something year old Francis discusses with me ‘the transcendental emotional experience’ that he as an artist experiences while he’s creating. He also directs me to his website, to read articles he’s written about the concept.

‘We really see some people come alive when they’re creating,’ said Goodwin activities officer Trish Jefcoate.

Anecdotal evidence shows that some participants are more stimulated, and more engaged with others even after the tour is finished, while others displayed less agitation or anxiety.

The activities team at Goodwin Farrer have furthered the program with art appreciation days at the village, and poetry writing inspired by artworks. Goodwin staff have received professional development training from NGA educators.

The NGA’s Art and Dementia program is sponsored by Goodwin Aged Care Services, and includes tours for individuals and their carer, community groups or residential care groups.