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Deanne and David, residents of Uniting Bowden Brae village, joined the painting festivities during the Pinot & Paint event. Picture: Supplied.

Art events coming to the fore in aged care homes

Growing interest in art as an alternative therapy to boost mental health has spurred an aged care home to organise a unique event.

A two-hour 'Pinot & Paint' event at Uniting Bowden Brae village in Sydney's Normanhurst was held with over 40 attendees who sampled wines at the fireplace and challenged their artistic abilities. 

Village manager Ross Buchanan says the art event encouraged a sense of community, especially for those who sometimes struggle to connect with others.

"It gets them to sit next to people they may not sit next to day-to-day and to just communicate with them and enjoy the time," Ross says.

"There's been a lot of talk of late, such as the ABC show Space 22, about how creativity improves your mental health, so that ignited the idea for the 'Pinot & Paint' event."

Azam Bazooband, a PhD candidate at Wicking Dementia Research & Education Centre at the University of Tasmania, says these art programs improve residents' life quality by promoting connectedness and belonging.

"Art allows them to communicate and be connected to people; they network through the art," Azam says. 

"Especially those with cognitive impairment who may have difficulties communicating or cannot express their emotions as others might be able to."

There's growing evidence that art as alternative therapy in aged care significantly benefits residents' mental health. 

Their artwork allows them to explore feelings and inner conflicts, foster self-awareness and reduce anxiety, according to research.

"They can communicate without language barriers and express ideas, issues and emotions and connect through these emotions with others," Azam says.

"Creating art without being judged is important, because the quality of the art is irrelevant.

"What is important is the quality of that moment; for them to be in the moment and feel they are enjoying themselves."

Azam points out that, while many aged care homes organise programs for their residents, further emphasis should be placed on creative events.

Addressing environmental and organisational matters that may create barriers for people during these activities also plays a key role.

"Everyone should feel included and that the creation of art is meaningful to them – to know your residents and that they know you."

Ideally, Azam would like to 'prescribe' art for older people and those receiving palliative care to increase their quality of life.

Art therapy often provides a holistic perspective for people receiving palliative care to reduce pain and soothe negative emotions.

"The focus should change from increasing the length of their life to increasing the quality of their life – and this is where art can help," Azam says.

"Art can also facilitate communication and express emotions between those in palliative care and their loved ones, especially as a patient might be getting closer to their end."

Azam's future research will dive deeper into the benefits of art therapy for people living with dementia.

Buchanan believes the 'Pinot & Paint' activity was a great success for both residents and those visiting from the community.

"It doesn't have to be amazing. It's just to get residents together and talk," Ross says.

"I've got quite a few residents that are single in the village, whether their partners are in the community or not with us anymore, so it's crucial for them still to have that interaction with people."

Housing over 200 residents, Buchanan says the village has plenty of special interest groups, such as jam making, knitting, bingo and painting.

"A lot of the activities we do are resident-driven, where we only assist in that interaction of residents throughout the village.

"It's not up to me to tell them what to do – it's up to them to decide and get other residents involved."

Among those participating in the event were David and Deanne Chapman, a couple married for over 60 years.

"It's his first time painting and what he has done is absolutely beautiful – he's got a gift," Chapman says. 

"I can't even draw a stick figure." 

Uniting Bowden Brae village plans to organise another art and wine event soon.

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