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Everyday tasks can encourage creativity in advanced dementia patients

Posted on 22/05/2012
Helen Nicholson

Professor Helen Nicholson

The simple art of folding a bed sheet could encourage the creativity of people living with advanced dementia, researchers have found.

Everyday actions, such as folding a bed sheet or filing paperwork become so ingrained in us over our lifetimes, that when re-enacted with visiting artists as part of arts sessions in care homes, they elicit responses in residents who that no longer communicate in language. .

Professor Helen Nicholson, from the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London, is undertaking a three-year research project commissioned by Age Exchange to evaluate the benefits of arts to people with advanced dementia.

One year into the project, Professor Nicholson explains the “tremendous positive effects” that simple creative projects can bring to residents. .

“Arts intervention can help to create a sense of home,” she says. “Residential care homes can feel like a hospital but arts can help dissipate this. People living with advanced dementia may not remember specific events in their lives, but they can communicate aesthetically. . For example, one artist used strips of material to choreograph a dance with person with advanced dementia. She started the dance by folding the material as if it was a sheet, which generated the interest and engagement of the residents and they were able to create a dance together.

“In another session a group of residents were creating origami. One of the non-verbal residents picked up a seagull the artist had created and started to swoop the bird around as if it were flying. He had previously not interacted but we found out that he spent most of his life living by the sea and this was the key to prompting him to respond.”

Although there has been a great deal of work on reminiscence arts projects, professor Nicholson explains that these won’t work with advanced dementia patients.

“Verbal reminiscence is used to encourage a person’s sense of self, but this has limited use with advanced dementia because it’s linguistic. This one-to-one arts interaction using ‘embodied memory’ to encourage creative responses enables us to work with residents who would previously be left with little interaction. With the Government’s Dignity in Care initiative, this is precisely the type of activities that should be happening in care homes.”

Professor Nicholson is now looking to advance her research project to look at ways that care managers can encourage regular creative sessions to residential homes.

“We have met some fantastic care workers through SLAM, many of whom have their own hidden talents,” she said. “One woman was a talented pianist, who just needed a little encouragement to play to the residents. I’m sure there are many care workers across the county with hidden talents.”

Professor Nicholson is also hopeful that, with the support of care managers, a programme can be established that will see volunteers and artists visit care homes and interact with residents.

She says: “Celebrities like Terry Pratchett are helping to change the way we think of dementia so that it is considered another stage of life rather than something terrible to be feared. With the help of care managers we can help to change the culture and dementia patients can have fun and be creative. There is a place for laughter and fun in care homes



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