It was wonderful to have the opportunity to facilitate a discussion on the role of the arts in the health and well being of the elderly, people with dementia and their carers.   Singapore has an ageing population and it has been predicted that by 2020 53,000 people will be suffering from some form of dementia.  Even worse, that number is predicted to treble by 2050!  A sobering statistic indeed – so how can an arts based program make any difference?

We know for a fact that an arts based programme certainly cannot reverse the onset of dementia but it has been proven to increase the happiness and wellbeing of the elderly and those with dementia.  This also can positively affect their carers.  In the discussion we explored two crucial areas in the role of art in the health and wellbeing. Firstly how could art improve the quality of life for the elderly, people with dementia and their carers. Secondly, what were the challenges and opportunities that art and artists  present in the areas of health and wellbeing.

The Joy Factor. Image (c) Nuwa

The Joy Factor panel was hosted by Nuwa as part of the Enabling Asia Festival at the National Design Centre, Singapore on 6th October 2018.  It was organised by artist Danny Raven Tan and Daniel Lim. Both are or have been primary carers for  parents with dementia. Listen to their journey here.

The panel featured four experts, artist Eugene Soh, aka the, who had just won a hackathon for his virtual reality program for people with dementia.   Dr Donald Yeo, Singapore’s first neuro-physicist with a special interest in ageing and dementia and board member of the Alzheimer’s Disease Association who has co created innovative arts and health community programs to benefit elderly people with early cognitive decline.  Melissa Chan, Founder of Project We Forgot is also on the steering committee for the World Young Leaders in Dementia Network who was inspired by her time as a carer for her father who suffered from early onset dementia. Emylia Safian, an arts therapist and educator at Lasalle who specialises in stress, trauma and loss. Her practice combines physiology and psychology to capitalise on human development.

The Joy Factor panel discussion, Enabling Asia Festival, The National Design Festival, October 2018

The panel highlighted the growing need for healthcare organisations, artists and art institutions to collaborate further to create more enriching, arts based programs to improve the quality of life, not only for the elderly and people with dementia but also for a greater consideration and incorporation of their carers as an essential part of these arts based programs.   

It was suggested that artists, healthcare professionals and art institutions in Singapore need to sit down together and discuss these issues but also find a better way to understand the limitations in creating effective programs such as the cost and and manpower as well as the essential elements that need to be included into an arts based program and the need for more of a focus on evaluation of intangible elements of the program such as happiness, well being and growth in confidence. In designing a professional art program, understanding the importance of the inclusion of the elements of repetition of routine, reminiscence and interpretation will ensure a greater likelihood of success for art programming in Singapore.

The audience were really engaged in the discussion and the Q&A was full of interesting and insightful questions for the panel.  What happens next is the big question.  I hope to see a sustainable and professional art programme emerging in Singapore soon. 

You can read more of our blogposts here and artist interviews here

Creative Arts Social is a not for profit organization. We believe that art is for everyone. We all have the creative potential to understand, connect with and benefit from the arts. For more information about the work we do here.  

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