Art classes help Kiwis living with dementia remember the bright side of life

An Auckland charity is using art to help improve the health and wellbeing of people living with dementia.

By 2050, an estimated 170,000 Kiwis will be affected by it, and it's thought art therapy could ease symptoms.

Connect The Dots Charitable Trust runs an art class with a difference in Auckland.

It is specially tailored for older people and those with dementia. Participants discuss an artist's work before having a go themselves, which co-director Andrea Gaskin says is a great way to combat dementia.

"The parts of the brain that remain untouched for the longest are the parts where imagination and creativity live, and so I think it's a natural fit to engage them in an art programme."

Dementia cases are rising with an ageing population, but it's thought brain activities and socialisation could slow cognitive decline, or at least improve quality of life.

Elsie Chaplin is one person feeling the benefits of creativity.

"You feel so good after you've done the activities because your mind is thinking," the Tui Village resident told Newshub.

"I'm not a drawing person - stick people, that's all I could draw."

While some keep it simple, others reignite artistic talents they haven't used in years.

Co-director Selina Anderson says art can be a way for those battling dementia to enjoy a light-hearted, happy experience even if they don't remember it for long.

"It's just a really simple way for them to be in the present and just create those joyful moments that, even if they don't remember that they came to us or the content, for all of us the positive, joyful feelings are still there for them."

Research has found the art programme also helps their mood. It's about being in the moment: class participants don't have to rely on memory or even speech.

"They can find ways to express themselves non-verbally," says Ms Gaskin.

"I think as verbal fluency deteriorates with the disease, there's still an opportunity to express themselves."

Ms Anderson believes the classes aren't just beneficial - they're necessary.

"We don't feel that the arts is a 'nice to do' for these people, it's a 'have to do' to get them participating and active."

Connect The Dots is working towards an exhibition in 2019 in an effort to reduce stigma and social isolation and show off all dementia patients have to offer.