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July 2016

People dancing jpeg
Nurse Jessica Nazareth and Roy Caulfield taking part in the creative arts program in Sunshine Hospital’s dementia management unit.

Western Health takes steps to introduce dementia therapy

People with dementia were calmer, more engaged with others and needed less medication after taking part in a ground-breaking creative arts program at Western Health.

The health service is the first to trial the program for people with dementia in a hospital setting.

The Creatively Ageing Program, run in partnership with the Footscray Community Arts Centre, involved qualified instructors running dance, visual art and music classes with patients at Sunshine Hospital’s dementia assessment and management unit.

The unit caters for highly-agitated people with moderate or severe dementia.

Patients stay at the unit for an average 38 days while they, and their families, receive specialised help.

The Creatively Ageing project involved patients and staff taking part in three art-based sessions each week during two three-month periods.

Sub-acute and aged care services clinical practice and development manager Carol Perich said results from the trial, including findings from staff surveys, revealed the project had been effective in changing behaviour and staff attitudes.

People were happier and less aggressive on the days that the art therapy sessions took place, compared with the non-art therapy days.

The trial reduced the need for people with dementia to be given extra medication to quell agitated behaviour.

It also improved staff knowledge about how to use meaningful activities rather than extra medication as the first option to manage the behaviour of individuals.

Ms Perich said nurse participation in the sessions was vital for the program’s success because people with dementia tended to follow or ‘shadow’ their carers.

The unit’s nurses and community volunteers now run regular art therapy sessions for people with dementia.

‘It’s worth investing in programs like this because the benefits are huge for patients, their families and staff,’ said Ms Perich, who was awarded Western Health’s 2015 Mavis Mitchell Scholarship for her research work on the trial.