05:07pm Thursday 19 October 2017

Using art to cure old age ills

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Living memories

A trip to the GP could see you walk out with any number of things; a bill of clean health, a specialist appointment or a prescription. But a referral to go and discover your inner Picasso?

A UNSW program about to get underway, Arts on Prescription, will see GPs prescribe art for vulnerable older people to improve their health and wellbeing.

Led by the UNSW faculties of Medicine and Art & Design, the South Western Sydney Primary Health Network and charity HammondCare, the initiative has received $800,000 in grants from the Federal Department of Social Service.

Older people who are bereaved, frail, socially isolated, battling chronic disease or who have mental health problems or early dementia will be mentored by artists over eight weeks as they explore artistic endeavours in small groups.

Senior rehabilitation physician and UNSW Associate Professor Christopher Poulos, who is heading up Arts on Prescription, says the program will span a range of artistic forms from the visual arts and dance through to music and storytelling.

“If an older patient is visually impaired their GP might refer them to a storytelling program, if they are frail it might be drama, or if they have early dementia it could be the visual arts,” Associate Professor Poulos says.

“The evidence from the United Kingdom shows these types of program can reduce a person’s reliance on medication and health services.”

The initiative also aims to challenge some of the negative stereotypes associated with ageing and demonstrate how older people can use their own creativity to improve their health and self-esteem.

UNSW digital artist Dr George Khut says while art therapy isn’t new, the program is innovative because it explores ways to match the kind of art activity prescribed with the needs and wishes of the participant.

“The idea that art can play a more active role in our health and wellbeing, beyond what we experience in museums and galleries, is something that many of us at UNSW Art & Design are exploring in our research,” Dr Khut said.  

“This project exemplifies this interdisciplinary approach, in this case through our collaboration with health researchers, to investigate the effects of art-making on the wellbeing of the elderly.”

The program will be delivered across two of HammondCare’s community aged care sites in Sydney and will run until the end of 2016. It will include a full evaluation. Artists interested in being involved should contact HammondCare

Media Office, UNSW Sydney NSW 2052 Australia
Telephone. +61 2 9385 2864


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