Art through the senses

Category: Special needs

Emmy Monash Aged Care, Caulfield North, Vic.

Art Through the Senses is a unique arts initiative based on a multi-sensory approach, providing the means to explore works of art through deeply immersive tactile interaction.

Art Through the Senses is part of Emmy Monash’s continuously evolving approach, that draws on the Lifestyle/Life Enrichment Coordinator's hands-on approach and her doctoral research in anthropology and experiences of ageing. Additional factors contributing equally to program development are: resident, relatives' and staff member feedback, monthly reports from Quality Committee Meetings, current initiatives in other facilities, and emerging research in dementia, brain function and neuroplasticity.

An art image, projected onto a wall, is recreated in front of participants so they can touch, imaginatively explore and discuss the image. People are encouraged to interpret what the painting represents, and invited to explore the replica by picking up items and describing their sensory impressions – the immersive experience. Their comments are used to create a poem. Using song sheets, people sing songs relevant to the art. People read the poem, take pride in their creation, and then paint their impression of the image. 

All stages together form a multi-sensory experience, people connect with their enduring capacity to feel, create and imagine. Sessions began at the home, and now also run at the National Gallery of Victoria following permission to run inter-generational sessions there.

The program integrates residents with diverse physical and cognitive capacity, including advanced dementia. Often students from a socially-disadvantaged school (from CALD backgrounds), are also included. The multi-sensory inter-generational approach stimulates creativity and imaginative processes. Sessions at the National Gallery of Victoria bring social inclusion, most meaningful for residents who have experienced severe traumas during the Holocaust.

Overall the program bypasses functional losses linked with ageing, elevates people to gain respite from health issues and traumatic memories, and educates residents and staff regarding expectations of older people.

The primary school that has been a collaborative partner in previous projects embraced the opportunity for their students' continuing involvement with residents, making the long-term goal of inter-generational arts-based projects an ongoing element of residents’ lives.

Monitoring occurs via observing individual participation, feedback from volunteers, NGV personnel and participants. Evaluative data is documented and compiled via a Quantitative/ Qualitative Analysis Tool.

Residents of Emmy Monash come from a minority group that has survived horrific traumas during the Holocaust – the effects of which do not diminish over time. Participating students are from CALD and refugee backgrounds.

The technique of multi-sensory arts immersion reduces distress, facilitates human connection, and removes potential barriers due to age, cultural differences, bringing the following transformative changes:

  • reinforced personhood – being seen not as elderly and frail but as creative, artistic, poets. Positive impact on psychosocial wellbeing – participants experience happiness, fun, empowerment
  • a positive perspective on ageing, destigmatise old age and dementia – sessions at NGV place residents back in society
  • stimulating imaginative processes in a different environment activates alternative neural pathways, enhancing cognition and concentration
  • Integration - residents with physical and cognitive impairments are included in a mainstream arts activity, de-emphasises difference and equalises all participants
  • Multi-sensory stimulus - sparks inner creativity, taps into enduring capacity, shifts the focus from biomedical diagnoses.

For more information on the program, contact Pamela Bruder (Lifestyle/Life Enrichment Coordinator), email:, phone (03) 8508 9300.