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There's something about artists

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approaches to dementia care, communication, music and dance
There's something about artists

Artists who work with people with dementia are an extraordinary group of people.  I’ve been privileged to observe a number of artists at work with people with dementia. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, we recently ran four workshops that brought artists, people with dementia and family carers together with researchers in the field.  In another initiative, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, we engaged seven artists to showcase their wares for care homes to choose which would work well with their residents.  This attracted an audience of 85 people representing 35 care homes, including some residents escorted by staff.  We were able to raffle off introductory arts sessions to eight lucky homes. 

We are told that a person with dementia may well experience self-stigma, social isolation, apathy, frustration and boredom.  Whether they practice dance or music, theatre or visual art, these artists command a mode of communication that helps to break these bonds of dementia.  My view is that artists who work in dementia excel in empathy and in being non-judgemental. They are pragmatic, meeting people on equal terms irrespective of ability or disability.  This overcomes stigma and fosters social inclusion.  I think that the shared focus on a creative activity (rather than the dementia) permits human contact without a clinical or therapeutic goal in sight.  This affords the people involved an opportunity to simply exist, enjoying the arts, without any pressure to remember anything at all.  In this way skilled artists can help to motivate people and to introduce variety, colour and new sensory experiences.  A key gift that art can bring to the life of a person with dementia is a means to communicate without words.  Even communication with familiar family carers is made easier through an arts medium.  A shared experience of curiosity, delight or laughter can reinforce the bonds between people and make life easier for carers too.   

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