Patients’ happiness, wellness and interest were boosted by the app.

Previous research has shown that spending time together viewing art at a gallery can lead to cognitive improvements and enhanced quality of life among patients with dementia, as well as reduce caregiver burden.

Now, a study led by researchers at Canterbury Christ Church University in the United Kingdom has also found benefits for dementia patients and their caregivers following art-viewing sessions done at home, via a touchscreen tablet. The results were published online in December in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Investigators recruited 12 pairs of volunteers with dementia and their caregivers to take part in the study and trained them on how to use an art-viewing app, which included images of early Greek and Egyptian pottery, European paintings and sculptures from the 16th to 21st centuries and photography of urban and rural scenes. Participants received a touchscreen tablet computer and were asked to use the app together at least five times over the course of two weeks and provided caregivers with a list of discussion questions to help generate conversation about the art. 

Overall, patients and caregivers reported a boost in well-being following art-viewing sessions on the app, based on participant appraisals of happiness, wellness and interest before and after each session. The app’s benefits also accrued over time, with the magnitude of well-being benefits increasing the more participants used the app, says study author Paul Camic, Ph.D., research director of the Salomons Centre for Applied Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University.

“Further research is still needed in order to say definitively if this activity improves well-being, but from this pilot study we found that the activity was engaging people’s curiosity and interest,” Camic says. 

The researchers also found that the app gave couples a new shared activity, and many participants reported an increase in excursions to view art  — changes that are likely beneficial for both the patient and caregiver’s well-being.