Abstract Art Good For Dementia Sufferers

Artists have found a new way in helping to trigger memories or reminiscences among people with dementia and are now engaged in a creative project at Donisthorpe Hall.

A Leeds-based arts and health charity has been involved in an art project to help those residents at Donisthorpe Hall who suffer from all stages of dementia — and the results have proved encouraging.

The innovative project, called In The Moment, is presented by Artlink West Yorkshire and is also in partnership with Bay Tree Resource Centre. It is funded by Leeds City Council and the Brelms Trust.

“We work across diverse communities with people facing challenges in their lives, ” said Becky Cherriman, writer and poet.

Becky and her colleague, visual artist Bev Haines, have been working at the care home for four weeks, going in once a week on a Monday afternoon.

Sessions so far have consisted of a herbal tea party in which residents tasted and described teas they had never previously tried.

Another session actively printed teacup designs onto a large artwork that depicted the tea party and associated conversations.

Becky gave a poetry reading which featured famous poets, alongside a poem she put together from the words generated by the teas, resulting in participants joining in with the refrain. It was encouraging that some of them remembered their contributions.

“We were guided to an imaginary beach in Donisthorpe’s sun room, after which we painted and printed our responses,” she explained. “Last week residents painted abstract paintings and found meaning in them.”

Some work has been executed on a one-to-one basis resulting in literary portraits of the residents, who are often engaging for up to two hours.

“They now recognise us and are growing in confidence about their artwork,” said Becky.

Bev said people who were reluctant to paint initially now paint independently or develop drawings which she begun. “They are able to express clear opinions about which materials to use or what stories they see in abstract work.”

She commented that some residents are painting for the first time since attending school, resulting in them becoming more verbal. “Staff have said they have learned things about residents they didn’t know previously, who now seem more alert than they did at the beginning.”

When discussed within a group setting, Abstract Art gives the opportunity to validate a group member’s thought processes and imagination. When asked what a person sees in the picture the resulting answers are always inevitably right.

She added that during the process of suffering from dementia, an individual’s imagination and thought processes are constantly being quashed in the real time world.

“An individual may be beset by imaginings which are happening for them in the real time world, but which are consistently being invalidated by their carers and families, mostly out of necessity and care for their loved ones safety.”

An example of a piece of abstract art from a resident who used a biscuit to create texture.
An example of a piece of abstract art from a resident who used a biscuit to create texture.


by John Fisher