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Art for Healing

Posted on Thu 15th Oct, 2015 in: Art In HealthcareHealthcare Projects

Using art for healing at Grinnell Medical Center Iowa

How hospitals are using visual stimulation to promote recovery and wellbeing

It is a well-documented fact that a person’s state of mind has a big impact on recovery when they are unwell. Just as medicine and treatment aids the physical healing process, positivity and the stimulation of senses aids the psychological recovery. Nowhere is this more relevant than in a hospital environment. Back in 1984, scientists in America found that post-operative patients in hospital recovered more quickly when they had a park view and many studies have been conducted since on the therapeutic benefits of visual stimulation. Upali Nanda is vice president and director of research for American Art Resources has studied this area in detail and says:

“Art can aid in the recovery of patients, shorten hospital stays and help manage pain. But it has to be the right art - vivid paintings of landscapes, friendly faces and familiar objects can lower blood pressure and heart rate, while abstract pictures can have the opposite effect.” see more here.

Hospitals that use visual stimuli, such as bringing in a sense of the outdoors, displaying art on the walls and using tactile objects to see and touch, have shown to deliver better recovery rates than those with stark white walls and drab, clinical interiors. One recent project in Iowa used these theories when it created a new cancer treatment ward which benefitted from large windows and lots of natural light but had less-than-desirable views over a car park. A local artist was hired to create an art installation on the ward that would use the properties of the light but create a more attractive, therapeutic environment for patients and staff. Her response was to apply artwork directly to the window; using a design based on local flower, the hydrangea; which allowed the light to pass through the design and cast botanical-inspired shadows into the space which would change throughout the day with the light. You can see the full story here in an article by Healthcare Design magazine.

Art therapy in UK hospitals

While America does seem to be at the forefront of such initiatives, art as a therapy is growing rapidly in the UK as well. As a signage company, we originally learned about the healing power of art through being asked to create some large format wall murals for a local hospital. As we worked with this hospital and others, and their demands for different kinds of visual stimuli increased, we embarked on a voyage of discovery which led us to create new products for generic healthcare environments and specific dementia-care wards and homes. We educated ourselves about the kinds of images and objects that worked best for different kinds of patients and the specific challenges that those with dementia present; things like how reassuring it can be to see nostalgic photos from the local area but how upsetting a personal reflection in a mirror can be.

We worked with Rotherham hospital to create wall displays for their dementia care ward. Liz Copley, consultant occupational therapist there, spoke about the impact of the images on patients, many of whom are living with advanced stages of dementia: “Ward teams have chosen themes of the 60s and 70s – with iconic images from these decades now decorating the wards. It’s about sparking a memory: patients who are able to have conversations are saying how nice it is and they are talking about what kind of cars they drove and what age they were when they got their first car.”

From our experience in this area we have seen first hand how powerful the idea of art for healing really is and if it aids recovery and promotes calm and wellbeing as it appears to, it surely has as valid a place as medicine and traditional treatments.

For more information on how visual displays and objects can deliver benefits to health environments please contact our healthcare lead, Tony Stead.

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