The Artful Dodger & Dementia

The Artful Dodger and Dementia

The Artful Dodger was the name given a street-wise boy who was a particularly good pick-pocket in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Much like an individual with dementia, the Artful Dodger had to find ways to thrive with his limiting circumstances. Looking at arts-based interventions for individuals with dementia resonates with the artful dodger.

Two literature reviews of art interventions and dementia validated that art interventions are useful in thriving with dementia. A review of music-based interventions done in 2020 found that music-based interventions improved depression and overall negative behaviors.1 Likewise a literature review of art interventions that included dance, music, visual arts and storytelling found that in ten of the 13 studies the individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment benefitted.2 The majority of studies showed improvements were recorded in global cognition, learning and memory, complex attention, executive function, and language.

As care partners who are either caring at home or from home—we may feel that we do not have the training or even the energy to conceive of or guide an arts-based intervention. Not to worry—research looking at the value of guided vs unguided art therapy found that although guided art therapy had cognitive benefits; unguided art therapy had affective and psychosocial benefits.3

As we navigate our health with COVID-19 along the dementia journey, our loved one may not be able to have guided art therapy—but we can access the basics for art. Accessing music, dance, or storytelling is a matter of internet and forethought. Even unguided art therapy would reap a smile and a more content care partner—which spills over to both partners. Roll up your sleeves, lay out the tarp and grab the clay or the paint. Or simply spin an old tale together; or look at a favorite artist’s work.

There are times as care partners that it feels like we are homeless urchins in the dark cold streets of dementia. Like the Artful Dodger, we can develop skills to thrive using resources we have. Turn on the radio, put on the vinyl, polish off your dance or your story-telling. A full heart is every bit as valuable as a full tummy was to the Artful Dodger.


1vann der Steen, J.T., Smaling, J.A.H., van der Wouden, J.C., Bruinsma, M.S., Scholten, R.J.P.M, et al., 2020. Cochrane Database Systematic Review,. Music-based therapeutic interventions for people with dementia, Cochrane Database Systematic Review, July 23, doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003477.pub4.

2Fong, Z.H., Tan, S.H., Mahendran, R., Kua, E.H., Chee, T.T. 2020. Arts-based interventions to improve cognition in older persons with mild cognitive impairment: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 8]. Aging Ment Health, 1-13. doi:10.1080/13607863.2020.1786802

3Costa, A.M., Alves, R., Castro, S.L., Vicente, S., & Silva,S. 2020. Exploring the effects of guided vs unguided art therapy methods, Behavioral Science (Baseline), 10(3): 65. Published online 2020 Mar 7.

Author: Cate
Passionate about dementia care and quality of life throughout the last days of life----sums up Cate McCarty, Dr. Cate, Dementia Coach. With close to forty years of long-term care experience in nursing and recreation, a Master's in Thanatology and a PhD in Aging Studies, Dr. Cate seizes every opportunity to translate research into quality of life for individuals with dementia and all of us who have the honor to "rub elbows" with them.

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