‘Art can be so powerful for sparking memories’

By Jo Makosinski | Published: 3-Oct-2022

Two art exhibitions support older people and those living with dementia at Nottingham hospitals

Two new art exhibitions in the corridors of Nottingham City Hospital and Queens Medical Centre are helping to support older people and those living with dementia.

Provided by Paintings in Hospitals, the artworks, which were funded by Nottingham Hospitals Charity were chosen by patients and staff to support therapeutic reflection and stimulate discussion and memory for older people, particularly those living with dementia, as well as supporting staff in their daily work.

The selection process for the exhibitions involved both clinical and non-clinical care staff from Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH), including arts champions and occupational therapists, who  selected 10 artworks to be displayed across the two sites.

They considered the artworks’ ability to promote reminiscence, stimulate memory, support group discussion, and encourage creative exploration for patients.

For staff, the artworks were chosen for their motivating, energising, and relaxing effects.

Encompassing themes of home, pets, childhood, and calming landscapes; the shows include works from the Paintings in Hospitals collection by artists such as Nicholas Hely-Hutchinson and Gill Douglas.

Supporting patient health

And, since installing the artworks, Paintings in Hospitals has continued to work with the trust to develop activity plans related to the works on display. These range from painting a favourite holiday destination while listening to music, to creating favourite flowers from colourful tissue paper.

The activities are designed to ensure the artworks are in constant use to support patient health and wellbeing.

The final artwork selection can also be accessed digitally so all patients, even those with low mobility or who are confined to bed, can reap the benefits.   

Megan Dawes, arts co-ordinator at the trust, said: “We are particularly pleased that patients and staff chose the artworks through in-person and online selection activities.

“Many expressed that it had made their day having something to look at and take their mind of being in hospital.”

Tom Gentleman, Grey Horses, 1948, is being displayed as part of the exhibition

Tom Gentleman, Grey Horses, 1948, is being displayed as part of the exhibition

Research has shown that art has a powerful part to play in the lives of older people and thosee with dementia.

A 2014 report found that creative arts therapies are effective for the treatment of behavioural, emotional, and social challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; while a 2015 study published by the American Academy of Neurology found that painting, drawing, and sculpting in old age lowers the risk of developing the early signs of dementia by 73%. 

These studies joined existing research that suggested similar links between creative activity and resilience to dementia.

Making a difference

Beyond neurological conditions, research sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts found that older adults who were involved in culturally-enriching programmes showed a decline in depression, were less likely to fall, and had fewer doctor visits.

Dawes said: “Art can be so powerful, not only for brightening up two once-very-plain corridors, but also for sparking memories and conversation.”

Dominic Harbour, relationship and development manager at Paintings in Hospitals, added: “With every new Paintings in Hospitals artwork loan, it is vital that process as inclusive and as ‘fit for purpose’ as possible, from start to finish.

“At NUH, it was essential to ask both the clinical and non-clinical staff what kind of artworks they thought would be most helpful to both their colleagues and patients.  

“And our ongoing evaluation programme records responses to the artwork and provides an important way of making sure the artwork is doing its job.

“It has been wonderful to work with the staff and patients at NUH and great to see such a fantastic selection of artworks really being appreciated in the fullest sense.”

Gill Douglas, Misty Islands, 2003

Gill Douglas, Misty Islands, 2003


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