There’s lots of interest, but nobody ever reviewed the evidence before this.

Researchers at the College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, Massachusetts, accepted the challenge.

First, the details.

  • Evidence for the value of 4 art therapies was reviewed.
    • Music
    • Visual arts
    • Drama
    • Dance/movement therapies
  • The review addresses four questions:
    • What is the focus of the empirical base on using art therapy in people with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type?
    • How were these studies  designed and evaluated?
    • What findings are reported?
    • What does this tell us about the potential of art therapy for enriching the lives of people with dementia?

And, the results.

  • Systematically designed, documented, and evaluated art therapy studies are scarce.
    • Information on research design, operational concepts, measurement tools, and methods of evaluation/analysis is vague, if provided.
  • Disagreement exists about the use of theoretical concepts and measurement/evaluation tools.
  • The evidence base is further divided between studies focusing on the ‘product’ versus the ‘process’ of art.
  • Shortcomings in dementia-specific research include:
    • Paucity of accounts from participants
    • Failure to extend therapies to individuals in the early stages
    • Lack of application to those living at home
    • Superficial attention to the meaningful aspects of doing art

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “Strictly allopathic methodologies will continue to fall short of adequately evaluating what are deeply idiosyncratic psychosocial issues.”

Rather, the authors suggest, efforts should be directed to investigating subjective well-being, or ‘enrichment,’ rather than objectively measured biomedical approaches. This would expand the evidence base and help ensure that those with dementia receive the services they want.

It’s not clear how one measures what a patient with dementia “wants.” However, it’s suggested that efforts to minimize depression in residential aged care facilities is a formidable challenge but may improve quality of life and protect against dementia.

The biggest problem is that you’re asking people with an arts background to apply scientific method to their specialty. That’s almost as big a problem as asking a patient with dementia what they want for dinner.

9/13/12 9:48 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.