Scientifically substantiated value of art in healthcare

A large-scale participation study into art in care in the Netherlands shows that art brings pleasure, positivity and deep contact, and that it challenges, according to the older persons, artists and care workers involved. Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing and Amsterdam University Medical Centre provide a solid scientific basis and thus strengthen the place of art within healthcare practice and contribute to the quality of life of the older persons.

“With this scientific basis, we are even stronger in our shared ambition to make art and culture an integral part of the range of care, support and welfare.” – The director of research funder ZonMw

Fun, deep contact and challenge
The study mainly looked at the value of art activities such as dance, drawing, music, singing, poetry, theatre and visual education in long-term care for the elderly. The research team collected 470 stories from older people participating in existing art initiatives and programs and carried out 40 observations. Professor Tineke Abma from Leyden Academy: “This study shows that art and creativity in healthcare can be very valuable: to be able to express yourself, to feel connected to others, to forget your limitations for a while and to be approached from what you can still do. In addition to this feedback from the participants, the care workers, informal carers and artists also emphasize the value of the activities for themselves. They experience pleasure, deep contact and are challenged in their profession.”

“Only afterwards did I hear that this had helped one of the participants to come out of the dejection. Those afternoons meant so much to them. It gave them something completely different to focus on.” – Theatre maker

Art in times of corona
The restrictions imposed by the corona pandemic and the associated measures quickly changed the course of the research project. Nevertheless, the artists provided an alternative, but equally valuable, interpretation to the activities within the various programs and initiatives. Because in this difficult time, the participants needed the  distraction, inspiration, comfort and contact even more.

“Now with corona, people experience a lot of problems. Reason enough to need a psychiatrist or a psychologist. But I think a blanc canvas, brushes and paint will be more effective.” – Participant in one of the art initiatives

Sustainability
The research project ties in with the worldwide movement for more art in healthcare, supported by the World Health Organisation. In healthcare there is a need for creativity, to colour outside the lines, to support the enthusiasm of employees and to work in a demand-oriented way. In the social domain, there is a demand for promoting participation and connection between citizens, and the cultural sector wants more connection with society. Participatory art can play a role in this! All this requires better cooperation between the government, municipal officials, funds, administrators in care and welfare, project leaders and artists.

Click here for the Dutch publication.