Clinician Article

Visual art therapy as a treatment option for cognitive decline among older adults. A systematic review and meta-analysis.

  • Masika GM
  • Yu DSF
  • Li PWC
J Adv Nurs. 2020 Mar 23. doi: 10.1111/jan.14362. (Review)
PMID: 32201968
Read abstract Read evidence summary
  • Geriatrics
    Relevance - 6/7
    Newsworthiness - 5/7
  • Public Health
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 5/7
  • Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP)
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7
  • General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US)
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7
  • Neurology
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7


AIMS: To investigate the effects of visual art therapy (VAT) on cognitive and psychological outcomes and explore the crucial design characteristics of VAT that might be associated with greater cognitive benefits among older adults.

DESIGN: Systematic review and meta-analysis.

DATA SOURCES: Peer reviewed articles were searched from Medline, EMBASE, Global Health, Cochrane Library, Ovid Nursing database, PsycINFO, British Nursing Index, and CINAHL Complete from inception of the databases to September 2019.

REVIEW METHODS: This review and meta-analysis was conducted and reported according to preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses guidelines. The Cochrane risk of bias tool was used to examine the risk of bias of the studies. Narrative synthesis and quantitative meta-analysis were performed.

RESULT: Twelve articles published between 2004-2019 involving 831 participants were identified. VAT significantly improved global cognitive function compared with different control groups (Hedges' g = 0.348 [95% CI = 0.026-0.671], p = .034, I2  = 66.570%). VAT also demonstrated psychological benefits in reducing depressive symptoms and anxiety. By systematic comparison of the intervention designs, it seems that those with greater cognitive benefit involved a higher level of creativity and optimized the use of essential components including art education, reminiscence, art processing, cognitive evaluation, art crafts/modelling, and socialization.

CONCLUSION: Visual art therapy could be effective in improving cognitive functions and the associated psychological symptoms. Therefore, it can be adopted as an effective non-pharmacological intervention for preventing cognitive decline and dementia.

IMPACT: This review answers the key question about the pooled effect of VAT as nonpharmacological therapy on preventing or managing dementia. In addition, it informs on the design characteristics of an effective VAT for implementing among older adults. This research will have an impact on the gerontological care and support the evidence about non-pharmacological approaches to prevent and manage dementia.

Clinical Comments

Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP)

It's tough to study art therapy and it's easy to pick holes in the studies but maybe it helps.

General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US)

Interesting result but requires confirmation before widespread implementation is possible.


This is a valuable piece of information to improve cognitive function and behavioral symptoms in patients with cognitive impairment.

Public Health

The result seems to be that visual art therapy might be beneficial to people with higher cognitive functioning; the paper mentions that patients with dementia were included. I am not sure how the authors conclude that VAT might be useful to prevent or manage dementia.

Public Health

As a neurologist, I find the results encouraging as there are limited pharmacological options to treat dementia. However, more research is needed to bring VAT into routine clinical use.

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