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Innovative music, art and poetry workshops are enriching the lives of RPA's dementia patients and their carers

Creative arts spark dementia patients' memories

November 2018

Innovative music, art and poetry workshops are enriching the lives of RPA's dementia patients and their carers

Innovative music, art and poetry workshops are enriching the lives of RPA's dementia patients and their carers

Dementia patients and their carers are taking part in creative arts workshops that combine music, art and poetry, to help ease the devastating impact the illness can have on families.

The team from Arterie @ RPA has partnered with RPA Neurology's Memory and Cognition Clinic to pilot the workshops in music, art and poetry, with the support of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

During the monthly two-hour sessions, patients and their carers listen to different genres of music, such as classical, blues, rock and pop. The music is played by live musicians including a pianist, violinist, drummer, guitarist, bagpiper, flautist and a didgeridoo player.

Participants are also shown an artwork from a celebrated artist, such as painter John Olson, ceramic potter Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, printmaker Yvonne Boag, or sculptor Rosalie Gascgoine, to inspire their own works, which they'll make while listening to the music.

The hospital's poet-in-residence Jill Carter-Hansen recites a published poem each month.

Dianne Middleton, 72, was diagnosed with dementia about a year ago. She attended a workshop with the support of her husband Neil Smith, who's in his 80s.

They joined a group of about 30 people seated at three tables laden with art supplies set-up in the ground floor atrium of RPA's main building.

Inspired by Australian painter Roy de Maistre's Rythmic Composition in Yellow Green Minor, which explores the relationship between art and music, the group used watercolours – in palettes of red, blue, yellow, green and orange – to create their own paintings with the guidance from the team from Arterie @ RPA.

They painted to the rhythm of music played by violinist Irene Ju, guitarist James French and keyboardist Bridget Orehov. Jill recited Sllvia Chidi's poem What Is Music To Me.

Mr Smith said he's thankful for the support that the couple had received from RPA – including the invitation to join the art program – since his wife's diagnosis.

"Life is full of challenges. And, we just have to try and deal with it as best we can. There is no magic cure," Neil said.

Dementia is a collection of symptoms that affect how a person's brain functions. It can affect how people think, behave and their ability to do everyday tasks.

It can affect people of any age, but is more common in people who are 65 and older. Currently, there is no prevention or cure.

Director of the RPA Memory and Cognition Clinic neurologist Dr Rebekah Ahmed said there's a strong link between the creative arts and dementia.

"Music can help stimulate the brain. It can often bring back memories of past events and it can be a quite soothing as well. I've seen feet tapping to the music… it's [the workshop] really aimed at improving quality of life and to provide stimulation," Dr Ahmed said.

"It's so hard giving the patients their diagnosis and saying, 'there's nothing we can do. There's no treatment. We can hopefully slow the progression.'

"So, this is something that hopefully they'll find enjoyable."

Arterie @ RPA head Amanda Solomon said the workshops help make coming to hospital a positive experience. She said it is important that support is offered to both patients and their carers.

"We're trying to find connections [through the art] to a recollection or a memory.

"It's about the process of the making, bonding with partners, making new friends, and social inclusion.

"I've seen a few smiles. And, we've had a request for heavy metal [music] next time."

Participants are given art materials and simple written instructions to take home to help them re-create a similar artwork in their own time.

The pilot program will run until August next year and there are plans for the participants' artwork to be exhibited at RPA and the Art Gallery.

For more information about Arterie @ RPA, see

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