Art gives voice to people with dementia

HammondCare residents living with dementia have found another way to express themselves through art, thanks to a life-changing program. 

HammondCare residents living with dementia have found another way to express themselves through art, thanks to a life-changing program.

Founded in 2015, Arts on Prescription is a series of participatory programs for older people that use the creative arts to promote healthy and active ageing.

Eight-week programs including art and music have been run for the public around Sydney, but August marked the completion of the first program run at an aged care home in Wahroonga, in Sydney’s north, for people living with dementia.

The classes and final exhibition were a positive and encouraging experience for all involved, according to Artist and Project Officer Annette Innis.

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Pictured: Val Colley with her art at the exhibition for the final week of the program.

“As an artist myself, it was inspiring and enjoyable to work with our participants, our ‘other artists’ who are expressive, intuitive, having fun, and not stuck within the boundaries of traditional art,” Annette said.

“People living with dementia can sometimes have fewer inhibitions. In an art environment this meant they were not holding back with their creativity and not limited by expectations.

“As a result the art was really bright, organic, intuitive, abstract, unique and joyful.”

Annette said one highlight was working with Val Colley, who overcame her initial nervousness to create a striking artwork titled ‘We will meet again’. The piece depicts Val’s smiling face with people turning their backs to her, representing her experiences of confusion and miscommunication.

“For me it was really powerful because, where dementia can limit the ways people communicate, painting was an avenue for this artist to communicate her story and give us, the audience, insight into what she was feeling,” Annette said.

“I was really moved by that experience because Val’s work communicated so much more to me than words could.

“Self-expression is so important, and that’s one of the advantages of having the arts available to people living with dementia. We need to allow for people to express themselves as much as possible.”

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Pictured: Artist and Project Officer Annette Innis (second from right) with Wahroonga program participants (left-right) Struan Lamport, Chris Jackman, Val Colley and Bruce Haddrick.

The program was tailored for people living with dementia, including smaller classes with nostalgic music relevant to the age of the participants. Annette used stories from her adult colouring book Colours of Yesterday: A creative colouring book for older people to help set the tone for each lesson, and objects from nature to inspire creativity, but artists were free to explore their own interests.

The plan now is to run more tailored programs at HammondCare in Wahroonga, including music and creative movement.

Arts on Prescription programs have been shown to improve mental wellbeing, promote physical activity and help people to achieve greater purpose in life. They are open to older people in the community who have a range of challenges to their wellness, such as anxiety and depression, care burden, loneliness and isolation, recent bereavement, and chronic disease.

Registrations are now open for Spring and Summer programs in visual art, creative movement, drama, artistic photography, music and storytelling in South West Sydney and Northern Sydney.

For more information, contact Arts on Prescription on (02) 8788 3900 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..