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DA&WN: A project to promote arts in dementia through co-production

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Our expectations of old age are increasingly overshadowed by the probability of progressive memory loss. The issues thrown up by this phenomenon have implications for scholars in the Arts and Humanities, as well as in the Social Sciences and Medicine. The Dementia, Arts and Wellbeing Network has been funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. The purpose is to generate and communicate wider knowledge and appreciation of innovations in the arts and dementia. DA&WN will address one facet of dementia where the interests of many academics from different disciplines converge: the use of the visual and performing arts to promote wellbeing in dementia.

Much existing knowledge is tacit and lies with the artists and individuals affected by dementia, so DA&WN will help to draw this out, by bringing the complementary perspectives of people with mild to moderate dementia together with practising artists and academic researchers from a range of disciplines to advance knowledge about wellbeing for people living in the community with this condition through the visual and performing arts. People – including those with a diagnosis of dementia – clearly enjoy making music, listening to music, singing, dancing, painting or visiting galleries and museums, according to their tastes. The film 'Alive Inside' (YouTube and Netflix) illustrates how individuals who appeared to be uncommunicative can respond to art - music in this instance, in an astonishing way.

The potential benefits to be gained from the widespread adoption of arts interventions that have such positive effects on individuals with dementia make the topic worthy of academic attention. DA&WN will:

- bring together for the first time academics from the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Medicine to explore the issue of wellbeing in dementia from a wide range of perspectives;

- increase knowledge and understanding of the wellbeing of people with mild to moderate dementia living in the community, and of their family carers;

- provide opportunities for artists to meet with people with dementia and academics in order to develop new approaches;

- help to underpin existing approaches to the arts in dementia by generating research-based evidence; and

- foster co-production (between people with dementia, arts practitioners and academics) of both academic and artistic works targeted at a wide audience

These objectives are to be achieved by means of four, two-day workshops in Nottingham, each focusing on a different art form. The first workshop, on Dance and Dementia, was held on October 3-4, 2016. Fergus Early of Green Candle Dance Company, London, and Dr Richard Coaten, a dance and movement psychotherapist in South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, shared their skills with a group which included academics, artists and people living with dementia. Evening entertainment was a screening of videos selected by Richard, who co-ordinates a website of resources at http://www.dancedementiahub.co.uk. Day two saw intense activity in working groups around knowledge translation, research and the development of engagement and training activities for more dancers to work in the field of dementia. Outputs from the event and related materials can be found at www.nottingham.ac.uk/dawn.


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