Arts 4 Dementia

11 October 2017
On World Alzheimer’s Day, 21 September, I attended Arts 4 Dementia Reawakening Integrated: Arts & Heritage Symposium. Arts 4 Dementia is a UK charity, founded in 2011 who promote empowerment through artistic stimulation.

Reawakening: Integrated Arts Heritage
They work with arts venues to provide training and develop arts programmes. They have a new re-developed website that highlights arts events that stimulate people affected by dementia in the community and Dementia-Friendly arts & heritage venues / locations.

The symposium put forward engaging and thought providing notions of how The Arts can be beneficial to people with Dementia. The day began with a welcome from Stephen Wrentmore, Artistic Producer, The Lighthouse in Poole, the venue host for the day. Veronica Franklin Gould, president and founder of Arts 4 Dementia introduced ‘Reawakening Integrated: Arts & Heritage’. A regional programme, with a framework to integrate arts into dementia care services in Dorset.

A report had been produced on the first of the three year academic partnership programme, based in Dorset, to integrate artistic stimulation into NHS England’s Well Pathway for Dementia. Part I articulates on a feasibility study of which investigation is being undertaken by Dr Trish Vella Burrows - it is looking at a framework to integrate arts in dementia services. Part II discuses Arts & Heritage versus Dementia - reawakening the mind arts programme to empower people with early-stage dementia, a dementia friendly initiative to preserve the joy of cultural visiting for families affected by the condition. Partnerships were developed as part of the project with Alzheimer’s Society, Ageing & Dementia Research Centre at Bournemouth University, Arts University Bournemouth, Canterbury Christ Church University and Pavilion Dance South West.

It is fascinating to understand that arts engagement is central to healthy ageing and has a key role to play for people with dementia. It has been noted that research demonstrates how visual arts, music, dance, drama, and other cultural and heritage activities can boost brain function and social wellbeing - helping to delay the onset of dementia and diminish its severity. It’s astonishing that artistic skills and appreciation, imagination and creativity can remain vibrant for years after onset of dementia. ‘The arts embody human expression – physical evidence of the impulse to create – influencing culture, changing culture and sharing stories with a wider world’ (Dementia and Imagination, 2017).

Dorset County Museum 
There were many key note speakers and cases studies presented throughout the day. One particular case study caught my attention. Dorset County Museum who delivered eight free weekly drawing workshops inspired by curator-led conversations in the galleries. The workshops took place from February to March 2017, on Thursdays from 2-4pm. The project aimed to re-engage the interests of local residents, giving them a range of opportunities to revive and develop skills to help override symptoms of memory loss, restore sense of purpose and reconnect in the community. The project involved a local artist Gillian Lacey, who teaches anatomy and drawing. She is a trained nurse and had specialised in drawing and memory for her MA. She worked in partnership with curators, educators and a volunteer at Dorset County Museum.

Curators were asked to choose 3 objects or groupings of objects, an aspect of which would inspire the resulting art session. They were asked to give brief explanation about each object in order to trigger interactive dialogue among participants and inspire the art workshop.

To keep up the artistic programme at home between the sessions and after the project was completed Arts 4 Dementia supplied a sketchbook and art pencils to participants. The artist also liaised with museum staff to provide colour reproductions for reference, to enable participants to continue to develop their drawings at home in order to maximise creative inspiration.

This case study made me realise that people with dementia visiting a gallery or museum, together with family or friends are able to heighten their sense of social wellbeing, long after dementia sets in. Weekly arts sessions led by facilitators trained to override dementia symptoms allowed participants to engage their creative instincts, to revive, develop and learn skills joyfully together.

Attending the symposium has had a compelling impact. I am inspired to take the lead here at MoDiP to explore how we can deliver engagement with the museum collection, to become a Dementia- Friendly Arts Venue. Watch this space…

Sarah Jane Stevens, AMA (Museum Engagement Officer)