Viewing art helps dementia sufferers and their carers, new research finds

Looking at art can benefit people with dementia by taking away the anxiety of trying to recall things, a study on the dementia access program run by the Art Gallery of New South Wales has found.

Dr Gail Kenning from the University of Technology in Sydney conducted the study of the program, which has been running at 2010, said the findings showed people were able to experience the “in the moment” pleasure of looking at art, rather than worry about memory.

The program runs every moth at the Gallery and involves guides taking people with dementia and their carers through a carefully curated collection of artworks. Participants, who have both mild and more severe dementia, are encouraged to talk about the works, with the guides as well as with their families.

These artworks include iconic Australian masterpieces as well as pieces from international touring exhibitions and annual exhibitions like the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes.

It was modelled on a similar program at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and is supported by Alzheimer’s Australia NSW and a private donor.

The Art Gallery of NSW head of learning and participation, Heather Whitely, said the Gallery places great importance on its program.

“The transformative nature of art engagement for people with specific needs cannot be underestimated,” she said.

The Gallery is now hoping to take the program into aged care homes (nursing homes) around NSW, for people who cannot visit the gallery in person.

With Dementia Awareness Month running from September 1 to 30 with the theme ‘You are not alone’ – it’s a good reminder to reach out to people with dementia and their carers.

You can see an ABC News video about the program here.

Find out more about Dementia Awareness Month here.

  • There are 353,800 people living with dementia in Australia and this number is expected to rise to 400,000 in less than five years
  • Three in ten people over the age of 85 and about one in ten people over 65 have dementia
  • There are also approximately 25,100 people in Australia with Younger Onset Dementia, a diagnosis of dementia under the age of 65 including people as young as 30)
  • An estimated 1.2 million people are involved in the care of a person with dementia
  • 6 in 10 Australians admit they know very little about dementia
  • There is information and support available. Call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 (interpreter service available)

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A special thanks to our contributors

Caroline Egan

DCM Media, agedcare101

Caroline has a wealth of experience writing within the retirement and aged care sector and is a contributing journalist for the and agedcare101 blog and accompanying newsletters.

Ian Horswill


Ian is a journalist, writer and sub-editor for the aged care sector, working at The DCM Group. He writes for The Weekly Source, agedcare101, and the DCM Institute fortnightly newsletter Friday. Ian is in daily contact with CEOs of retirement living, land lease and the aged care operations and makes a new contact every week. He investigates media releases, LinkedIn and Facebook for a good source for ideas for stories.

Lauren Broomham

Retirement and Aged Care Journalist

Lauren is a journalist for, agedcare101 and The Donaldson Sisters. Growing up in a big family in small town communities, she has always had a love for the written word, joining her local library at the age of six months. With over eight years' experience in writing and editing, she is a keen follower of news and current affairs with a nose for a good story.

Jill Donaldson


Jill has been practicing as a clinical physiotherapist for 30 years. For the last 13 years she has worked solely in the Aged Care sector in more than 50 metropolitan and regional facilities. Jill has also toured care facilities in the US and Africa and is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff who care for them. She researches and writes for DCM Media.

Chris Baynes

DCM Media, agedcare101

Chris has been a journalist and publisher in the retirement village and aged care sectors for 11 years. He has visited over 250 retirement villages and 50 aged care facilities both within Australia and internationally. Chris is a regular speaker at industry conferences plus is a frequent radio commentator.

Annie Donaldson

Nurse and Carer

Annie has a long career in both nursing and the media. She has planned and co-ordinated the medical support from both international TV productions and major stadium events. In recent years she has been a primary family carer plus involved in structured carer support.