Number 46 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights how art may be key to fighting Alzheimer’s and dementia…

Creativity and art may be key to fighting dementia, according to recent research.

A 2015 study published by the American Academy of Neurology found that painting, drawing and sculpting in old age lowers the risk of developing the early signs of dementia by 73%.

The research took place over four years at the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, and followed 256 people over 85 years of age. The participants reported their participation in art activities, crafts, and socialising.

Artist Alex R helps a participant in a Paintings in Hospitals' creative workshop

After four years, a third of the participants had developed mild cognitive impairment. But those who had taken part in arts activities (such as painting, drawing and sculpting) were 73% less likely to have suffered memory or thinking problems.

This study joined existing research that suggested similar links between creative activity and resilience to dementia. In 2002, a large study of 1,375 people in Sweden found that both creative activity (including painting and drawing) and cultural attendance (museum/gallery visits, theatre, etc.) helped to preserve mental functioning.

Ongoing research in behavioural neurology in the US is looking deeper into exactly how the brains of artists may be better equipped to handle brain disorders and diseases in later life.

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