In July of this year the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Well Being Inquiry Report was published, entitled: ‘Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Well Being‘. An inquiry that has been 3 years in the making and produced 188 pages of information, discussion summaries, evidence and general input from many sides of the health industry.
But for the average nurse working in what is increasingly a stressful and undervalued occupation, what does it mean for us and our everyday work undertakings?
This group was formed in 2014 to improve awareness of the benefits that the arts can bring to health and wellbeing. A major outcome of the inquiry has highlighted the need to stimulate progress and direction toward making these proposed benefits a reality across the United Kingdom. The group had widespread representation including ministers in the Departments of Health and Culture, Media and Sport, The Chief Medical Officer, NHS England and various other subgroups.
What are the Nuts and Bolts of the Report?
The subject of this report was to consider how the act of a creative process affects a person’s physical and mental health and why this would be beneficial to the health of the population.
It appears that the UK is increasingly using arts-based strategies to address health inequalities throughout different stages of our lives. Issues such as social determinants, environmental adversity and health inequalities have all been targeted for improvements with the introduction of creative health programs.
This report provides reasons for promoting a greater integration of arts and health practice into health services. Broken into categories such as childhood/adolescence, working age, older adult and end of life, the framework gives examples of how art practice can be a tool for therapy, rehabilitation and promotion of healthy living. Furthermore, it is seen as an ideal medium for the inclusion of socially isolated groups and a way of communicating sensitive health issues.
So, What is the Evidence?
Concentrating on one area close to my heart, I looked at the benefits of these programs and our ageing population. It is not new information that our world population is growing older at a significant rate. As our world citizens are living longer it has come to the attention of different countries’ health organisations that more emphasis must be placed on ensuring that these ‘added’ years are supported with healthy ageing.
Dance is very social in nature. With the very real possibility of people becoming more sedentary in this age of technology, dance can provide a form of aerobic exercise that can be adapted to individual capabilities. The excuse of restricted movement is rapidly becoming obsolete with many dance classes specifically tailored to people with movement disorders. Apart from the physical benefits such as improvements in balance, strength, gait, and posture, the social side of dance groups is very welcoming. Mixing with people who have similar ailments (or not) builds up companionship and understanding that often is missing in our aged years.
Museums and galleries offer programs to vulnerable or lonely older adults. Some innovative museums have dementia specific programs that are showing wonderful evidence of increased perception and awareness in dementia clients. Often ‘lost’ memories can be triggered by certain paintings that are specific to the group and lead to interaction and a sense of fun for the participants. It is often not only the dementia clients but also the carers and family members that benefit greatly from these programs.
Other sessions for isolated older adults will take the form of weekly gatherings that cover such activities as gallery talks and tours, discussions, and the ability to touch and feel objects or paintings. The result is an increased psychological wellbeing and sense of purpose.
Mental Health is also an area that is targeted by the creative health programs showing positive outcomes. Combating loneliness, increasing independence, and improving mental wellbeing are just some areas that have shown significant improvement. People who participate in activities such as singing, dancing, creative arts and museum activities have a better capability of social engagement.
Recommendations and Next Steps
The overall outcome of this inquiry demonstrates that there is a firm belief that the arts can be used to assist policy changes to help address and promote preventative strategies to maintain healthy ageing. Some effects of these recommendations will hopefully increase the encouragement for older adults to stay physically and mentally healthy; enable people to take a more active role in their own health; improve mental healthcare, and therefore diminish social isolation and loneliness.
Encouraging health organisations and communities to participate in funding and research of arts programs in healthcare would be, realistically, the next steps for this strategy. However, for many nurses and other healthcare workers, the underlying question is how to integrate these initiatives into a healthcare system that is already stretched?
One important factor that should not be overlooked by organisations is the benefits and understanding of their healthcare staff on the floor. It is these staff members that need to have buy-in to any program for it to be able to work and show benefits for the participants.
- Arts & Health South West 2017, Case Studies, viewed 1 November 2017, http://www.ahsw.org.uk/studies.aspx
- National Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing 2017, Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing, London, viewed 1 November 2017, http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/