he arts, including music, dance and visual arts, can potentially bypass barriers to self-expression resulting from deteriorating verbal skills. They offer exciting possibilities to work with people with dementia in creative ways and in a variety of forms and settings, ranging from groups with a largely recreational aim to individual arts therapies.
In many countries, arts therapies are regulated professions and those calling themselves arts therapists must have completed training approved by a professional body. For example, in the UK, art therapists, drama therapists and music therapists are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (www.hcpc-uk.org.uk). Registered therapists will have received training in the use of their art form as a psychological intervention, although not all will necessarily have specific training or experience with dementia.
'Where words leave off, music begins' (Heinrich Heine, German poet). A patient of mine, a psychotherapist herself, who had spent her working life helping others through words, was deeply distressed by difficulties with language quite early in her Alzheimer's disease, and attempts to talk to her about her feelings only magnified the problem. She was also an amateur musician and music therapy proved to be a lifeline to her, allowing her to develop a relationship with a helping professional without relying on speech. Such experiences leave powerful impressions. But did her rather unusual background make her unique, or can arts therapy help many people with dementia? Is formal arts therapy necessary or can we see benefits from other arts-based interventions, which may be easier to reproduce widely or less expensive? And when in the course of dementia might the benefits be greatest? In order to answer these questions, we need to look for high quality research which compares the effects of arts-based interventions with control interventions.