The arts, creativity and dementia

July 7, 2020

In the third blog post in the series of meaningful activities for families with dementia during the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Karen Harrison Dening discusses the benefits of the arts and other creative pursuits.

The impact of the arts on people with dementia is becoming increasingly significant. It can be a powerful way for people with dementia to not only express themselves but also stimulate their mind which can improve thinking ability.

Creative activities like painting and listening to music can stimulate the brain. It can help people living with dementia to create a dialogue and provide them with an additional means to express themselves.

Glasses on top of a pile of books


Painting has been found to be particularly valuable in helping people living with dementia to communicate in a non-verbal way, when verbal communication is more difficult, or lost. Similarly, painting and drawing can allow us to use their power of imagination which can make people living with dementia to feel more connected to the world and people around them.

Adult colouring books are popular for stress relief and can be found in craft shops or on online stores such as Amazon.


Research suggests that listening to music or singing songs can provide emotional and behavioural benefits for people living with dementia. Musical memories are often preserved in dementia, when other types of memories are lost, because of the areas in the brain that are affected. Music has the power in all of us to relieve stress and reduce anxiety and depression, but also to be uplifting and joyous. In people living with dementia it can also have the effect of reducing agitation. You can work together to develop playlists, whether that be to help relaxation prior to bedtime, provide distraction when a person seems agitated, or to motivate them if they seem apathetic or listless. There are several things to consider when developing a personal playlist:

  • What kind of music does the person with dementia enjoy?
  • What music evokes memories of happy times in his or her life, or even the life you share together? It may be memories of music of when they went to dances, hymns at their wedding, a particular group/singer or band. This is an activity you can involve the wider family and friends in by asking them to suggest songs or to help you to make the playlists.
  • Music can also benefit family carers by reducing their own anxiety and distress levels, lighten your own mood as well as providing a way to connect especially when communication has become difficult.

For further information read our leaflet.


Watching films with a person with dementia can be another good way to stimulate a person with dementia and increase feelings of connectivity with the wider family. Whilst no experience of dementia is the same and families are best placed to know what kind of films would be most suitable for their relative with dementia, there are certain styles which can be broadly appealing. This can include films which do not have complex story lines, as well as films where there is a strong action, comedic or musical element.

We put together a list of films which could be suitable to someone with dementia which you can access here.


Whether fiction or non-fiction, reading can be a great way to increase understanding as well as providing a useful activity with people with dementia to help stimulate and maintain connections.

For the last few years Dementia UK has been supporting the work of the Reading Agency who have initiated a number of useful projects about the importance and value of reading.

‘Reading Well; Books on Prescription’ provides a useful list of recommended books for both people with dementia and family carers, which aim to provide information and support. These books can be brought directly or you could even loan them in an e-book format.

For a person with dementia who is struggling to read, you can try reading to them. This can be a nice activity for children to do with their parent or grandparent. If there are any challenges in concentration, try short stories, poems or picture books. These can evoke memories and help start conversations, which can bring great pleasure and help the person reminisce.

For the carer, try and make sure you find time to relax and enjoy reading, if this is something you used to do. Making time for yourself is important as it will help sustain you and keep you going

Part four: reminiscence

Read how reminiscence therapy can help older people with depression by focusing on positive and rewarding aspects of their past

Find out more

Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline

The Helpline is for anyone with a question or concern about dementia, including Alzheimer’s

Find out more