Q7. What evidence is there that the Arts can make a difference?

A: We’ve seen it in practice. We evaluate each event and now have quotes and feedback from each activity, which can be seen on our website. There are also many studies listed in the ‘Resources’ section of the website. What has been so amazing is actually witnessing the effect and the carers reporting that their parents are so much more animated. Seeing the reactions each time confirms the research. There’s nothing as good as actually witnessing the effect.

Because you don’t recover from Alzheimer’s it’s qualitative, of course, rather than quantitative.

Q8. Your website describes projects in Kingston and Cambridge which draw on Music to help people with dementia. Can you explain how they help?

A: Music comes to you. You don’t have to do anything. There’s a real feel good factor. Most people like some form of music. In the Kingston project people with dementia get the musical rhythm first, tapping and moving their bodies. Music seems to maximise and stimulate the brain, so people can then recall words through the joy of music. We chose quite carefully the type of music played to people. It is their choice.

You need to coax it each time but it makes such a difference. When you have Alzheimer’s you’re confused. Living with the diagnosis is difficult. You’re desperate to retain your brain. However, your creative brain, in Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is still working and can work for many, many years, so music and the other arts are an enjoyable, constructive way to maximise your brain, keep it ticking over and communicate with your family and friends.

Turtle Song has been going professionally for some years and is an ideal standard bearer. They bring together three participants – Turtle Key Arts (an established theatre organisation), English Touring Opera (a professional opera company) and high calibre music students from the Royal College of Music. They create a song cycle in which both people with dementia and their carers and students and professional performers participate and this produces work of a high standard, which is amazing to behold and creates a real sense of achievement.

Q9. Have there been any changes recently in the way arts opportunities have been made available to people with dementia?

A: Arts organisations have traditionally offered activities for the elderly in care settings. Now these activities are increasingly being offered in cultural venues, like museums and galleries. We’d like to encourage bridging. People with dementia don’t like to admit this. We’d like to see people being recommended to take up their favourite art form on initial diagnosis. This is something they can really enjoy and be capable of and this can help bring back confidence and sense of identity – and show other people there’s very much still something there.

Q10. There are a number of projects linked to art galleries. How does viewing works of art make a difference?

A: As we know people with dementia live in the present. Their emotions are the same or possibly stronger than other people’s. So they can respond to works of art. Also artworks are often powered by some form of message – be it political, about love, or time etc. This provides the potential to discuss that message. Art can be infectious. It is also subjective. So people may have completely different ideas about it, which can make for really good dialogue.

Another advantage is that Museums and Galleries are open – they are spaces you don’t usually have to pay to use. They are particularly welcoming.

Q11. There have been a number of projects which involved people with dementia handling pieces of sculpture and museum exhibits ie involving touch as well as sight. Is this something Arts 4 Dementia has any information on or is planning to include?

A: People with frontotemporal dementia are less comfortable with discussion. So touch is important. At the Wallace Collection events, for instance, they brought out some artefacts, gauntlets from the armour collection, and replica costumes.

This kind of event also suits the carers as well as the people with dementia. It’s a marriage of fun and excellence.

Q12. Are there projects involving any more of the arts – like dance, drama, film and photography?

A: Yes, there are also projects covering Comedy, Dance, Drama, Photography, Poetry and Communication. These will be taking place at various locations around London. Each will provide up to 8 weekly sessions for 6 – 12 people with dementia and their carers.

Because it is person-centred there are initial costs to putting on such projects but we believe this generates savings for all concerned, including the UK as a whole through reduced care needs and costs. One of our aims is to help people live longer and better in their own homes. As one of the participants at the Wallace Collection commented, because of the event she kept forgetting about her Alzheimer’s.

There’s quite a movement now, as people take their Fine Art degrees or Music, Dance or Drama and then come into community work.

Q13. Are there Arts for Dementia projects taking place in other countries?

A: John Zeisel in the USA, author of ‘I’m still here’, has been a pioneer. There are now projects in an increasing number of countries, among them, Australia, Canada, France, Holland, South Africa and the US, including ‘Artists for Alzheimer’s’.

These projects initially started out in care homes but are now increasingly spreading to the community, notably, at leading arts venues. This means there’s now a need to coordinate information about these opportunities, which is what Arts 4 Dementia is seeking to do, working in partnership with the other organisations in the field.

Q14. Can any of the arts help prevent or delay dementia?

A: I am afraid not. Some studies suggest the arts may help slow cognitive decline, certainly the arts elevate people above their symptoms. What is undoubtedly good news is that, as we have witnessed through Arts 4 Dementia sessions, engaging in arts activity maximises brain function in those with dementia. It is undoubtedly beneficial and after medication and exercise the arts do seem to offer the most effective therapy for those with dementia.

Q16. Can Arts 4 Dementia also help those caring for people with dementia?

A: Yes, very much so. For those in the sandwich generation, trying to maintain a career and look after their children and one or more parents, guilt is a real issue. The Arts 4 Dementia events provide quality time for both the person with dementia and their carer, offering opportunities for enjoyable artistic stimulation together that can heighten the rest of the week, knowing it is one of the best things you can possibly do for them.

Q17. How can people find out more about Arts 4 Dementia?

A: If you are reading this before the 14th November 2011, come to our conference at the Royal Albert Hall, to hear from expert speakers in the morning (like Baroness Greengrass who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia; and Harry Caton, author of the Department of Health and Arts Council England Prospectus for Arts and Health) and take part in workshops in the afternoon. The conference aims to establish guidelines for running arts for dementia events at cultural venues and will hopefully encourage people with dementia to get out and make full use of their brains while they still can.

Otherwise, our website arts4dementia is a good starting point, with lots of information for people with dementia, their carers, arts organisations and health professionals, as well as our programme of activities around London in 2012, offering art, comedy, dance, drama, music, photography, poetry and communication. We feel our website has the capability to make a real difference for people and become a forum for discussion.

 Published 26/10/2011