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Inside Out of Mind

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In the summer of 2013 Nottingham University’s Lakeside Theatre staged a new play, Inside Out of Mind*, written and directed by Tanya Myers.

There are at least 3 stories to tell here. One is the story in the play itself but there’s also the story of how the play came about and another story about how the play was put on. Then are there are the individual stories of people who came to see it and how it affected them, and finally there is a story not yet told about what happens next and how the play can be taken elsewhere for new people to see it.

‘The play’s the thing...’ It’s about dementia. Specifically, it is about a group of people with dementia on a hospital ward, the Ward With No Name, and the staff, mainly healthcare assistants, who look after them. In keeping with the confused world of people with dementia, the action is semi-realistic and there is often an other-worldly quality to the music and the staging. The actors switch between staff and patient roles, which I think reminds us of how we may all pass through this scene ourselves in the future. The only character who does not is a former scientist called Gabriel Proust. He speaks at the beginning but thereafter is mute. He shambles around collecting keys, biscuits, pillows, pairs of scissors and the like. Eventually he absconds but only to return with a bunch of roses for the sweet young girl who is working on the ward as a researcher as well as a nursing aide. And that’s about it as far as plot goes. But the play is more about states of mind and the reactions of the staff to those they care for. These are authentic – not all good, often quite stressed, and with different ways of coping, of which a spiritual approach seems as effective as any.

What’s unique though is how the play came about. It arose from research on a dementia ward in Nottingham. The research, led by Professor Justine Schneider, was looking at the work of healthcare assistants in this setting and how they deal with the challenges of caring for people with severe dementia and unpredictable behaviour. Some of our experts will be able to comment further on this work. However, an important aspect was a series of interviews and observations with staff, relatives and patients about life on the ward. This material was transcribed and it is from this huge pile of paper that Tanya assembled the script for the play. In other words, nothing in the play wasn’t said by somebody in real life.

The third story is that the researchers (my colleague Prof Justine Schneider led this) arranged for the local health employers to send all of their health care support workers to daytime performances of the play followed by workshops to discuss what they had just seen. This was an enterprise of military proportions, about 200 staff each day, with a marquee and enough chicken Caesar salad to feed a Roman legion. Many of the staff attending weren’t sure what they had let themselves in for but in general the responses were very positive. It was clear that most of them had had no training in relating to people with dementia and many were extremely moved emotionally too.

It’s not just what you know about dementia, it’s also where your heart is that matters. Drama gets behind the facts and provides other ways of looking at this human predicament that we call dementia. 

*For more information about Inside Out of Mind, including clips from the production, please visit the following webpage: http://www.insideoutofmind.co.uk




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Derek Fisher

I arrived in London for this event as a sceptic about research as my remit is the here and now.

I went for curiosity and to see what was actually happening out there in the world of research.

Emma Putland

Dementia is certainly a growing social concern, and is increasingly discussed and portrayed in newspapers, government speeches, policy documents, films, books and more.

Neil Chadborn

I think people ‘get’ Dementia-Friends or even Dementia-Champions and associated campaigns and events. Dementia-Friendly Communities (or cities) I think may require a bit more work to convey to many people.