Can Reminiscence Arts improve the wellbeing of people with dementia – and also help the staff who care for them?

These were questions explored at a seminar at London’s King’s Fund in January 2015. The main focus was on RADIQL (Reminiscence Arts in Dementia Impact on Quality of Life). This is a three year pilot project, providing a structured arts intervention and workforce training programme in care settings (12 care homes and two community hubs). Here are some of the points reported at the seminar:

What does RADIQL involve?

Two trained Reminiscence Arts practitioners facilitate sessions, supported by either one or two members of the care staff. Different art forms may be involved, like art, music and dance.

Usually there is a warm up and warm down, specialist materials are used and sometimes there is an output, such as a play, film, work of visual art or piece of music. The sessions may follow a general theme or be themed around each member’s personal history or interest. 

Who provides RADIQL?

RADIQL has been developed by Age Exchange. It is funded by the Guys and St Thomas’ Charity and is being evaluated by Royal Holloway University of London.

How is Reminiscence interpreted?

RADIQL doesn’t aim to ‘recover’ the person who is ‘lost’ by inviting them to remember past events – as that may reinforce a sense of failure.

Instead it takes a more holistic view of reminiscence. It sees memory as being more than what we can tell about our past. In particular it includes what our body remembers. For example one participant was a former watchmaker. The attention to detail while working with his hands was something his body remembered from his former occupation and enabled him to carefully plant seeds in a plant pot.

Working with the imagination is seen as freeing people living with advanced dementia from the pressure to recall, understanding that memories can be embodied and sensory.

It invites people with advanced dementia to draw inspiration from the past to develop meaningful and reciprocal relationships in the present and even look to the future.

How was progress measured?

RADIQL uses Dementia Care Mapping. This measures a range of types and levels of wellbeing, using 23 behaviour category codes. Mood-engagement was also measured, recording degrees of happiness, contentment, comfort, relaxation and pleasure. Together these provided an indicator of quality of life.  

What were the main findings?

The interim report noted four significant findings i.e.

  • Participants’ quality of life improved significantly during Group Reminiscence Arts sessions. The effect reached a peak after 50 minutes into the group session.
  • Participants’ quality of life steadily and significantly improved during the Group Reminiscence Arts session, week on week, over the 24 weeks of the project.
  • Group Reminiscence Arts sessions did not have a sustained impact on participants’ quality of life i.e the effect wore off after time.
  • Some Reminiscence Arts activities consistently encouraged high levels of mood engagement. Creative activities was one of these.

Where can I find out more?

You can find further information on the Age Exchange website – including the Interim Report of the Evaluation