Sharing Art Allows Medical Students to Connect to Dementia

After noticing that many of her peers were having a hard time relating to patients who had dementia, medical student Hannah Roberts decided to see if she could help break down the barrier. Partnering with her professor and organizing a trip to a local art museum showed changed attitudes and comfort levels among medical students.Sharing Art Allows Medical Students to Connect to Dementia

Learn more about the small study and the importance of physician attitudes when interacting with dementia patients.

Art Allows Medical Students to Connect to Dementia

First year medical student at Columbia University College of Physicians, Hannah Roberts, quickly saw that her peers were having a difficult time when it came to relating to their patients who had dementia. She noted:

“There’s a misconception that dementia patients are like toddlers in a way.”

She went on to say that she felt her peers were “intimidated at the challenge of having to get accurate histories and establish a connection with someone who has a limited ability to communicate.”

From previous work with people with dementia, Roberts knew that the relationship between patient and doctor did not have be awkward or forced. She said, “These are adults who’ve led full rich lives, who have lots of knowledge and personalities that are still very present.”

Shared Experience of Art Eases Tension

Roberts decided to see if she could help her peers break down barriers hindering communication by partnering with one of her teachers, Dr. James Noble. Noble, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center and founder of the nonprofit Arts & Minds which provides museum experiences for people with dementia, and Roberts planned a field trip to a local art museum to see if the shared experience of art could ease the tension.

In a recent study published in Neurology, teacher and student took 19 medical students to the art museum along with patients and family members to create, discuss and observe art for 90 minutes. Students were asked to complete a questionnaire called the “Dementia Attitudes Scale” survey before and after the art trip. The 20 questions on the survey were meant to analyze the comfort and confidence of the students around people with dementia and to determine if art allows medical students to connect to dementia.

Noble and Roberts found that scores after the art experience demonstrated a higher comfort level among people with dementia and family members. One student participant said of the experience:

“It gave us a chance to interact with patients with dementia in a context where their dementia isn’t the main focus. We get to see what they are capable of — more so than what they are incapable of — which so often is what cognitive tests force a patient to do.”

With the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related dementias only increasing, physician understanding of the disease is more important than ever.

Do you think this is a valuable lesson for doctors? Can the shared experience of art really change the stigma surrounding dementia? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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