Veronica Franklin Gould of Arts 4 Dementia discusses how partnership projects are benefiting people with dementia by reviving their creative skills and developing new ones.
Arts 4 Dementia (A4D) was founded as a charity in 2011 to help develop and coordinate arts activities for people living with dementia in the community, and their carers. To bridge the gap in provision from diagnosis we set up the London Arts Challenge in 2012, a programme of weekly projects at wide-ranging arts venues around the capital, to re-energise people in the early stages of dementia and their companions (family, friend or professional carer). Launched with a best practice conference at the Royal Albert Hall and awarded the London 2012 Inspire mark, our sixteen projects have proved so effective that carers report cognitive benefits lasting up to several days and participants travel across boroughs to join the next course.
Dementia describes a range of degenerative brain disorders, of which the most common form is Alzheimer’s disease, followed by vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia, plus other forms. Of over 800,000 people in England and Wales diagnosed with dementia, two-thirds live at home, coping with memory loss, anxiety, confusion, increasing stress and isolation. Yet in Alzheimer’s, artistic and imaginative responses can remain undamaged for years and engaging in arts activity and exercise helps overcome the demoralisation of memory loss.
We work in association with Dementia UK to provide training for project leaders and volunteer art students, planning creative activity for people in the early stages of dementia and carers, to clarify their abilities and learning potential. Before each project we give site-specific guidance to the workshop team and explain the re-energising approach for participants keen to restore cultural life, maximise brain activity and rekindle enjoyable partnerships with family carers.
The most challenging aspect has been to reach the ear of potential participants who cope with their diagnosis at home. To set up the arts and health pathway for referrals to projects, we liaised with local community mental health teams, memory services and branches of the Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK and care services. Courses were publicised in the London Arts in Health Forum and other networks and where possible in arts venue community web pages. In underresourced areas referrals were a challenge, but the programme began well thanks to the Camden Community mental health team who identified patients they felt would benefit from the projects.
Partnership projects have covered art, dance, Indian dance, scriptwriting and drama, music, photography and poetry. Offered free to an average of six people with dementia and six carers for periods lasting for three to ten weeks, they were held at Cadogan Hall, Central School of Speech and Drama, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Green Candle Dance, Kenwood House, Leighton House, Museum of Brands, National Portrait Gallery, Photographers Gallery, Prince of Wales Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, Tricycle Theatre, Wallace Collection, with poetry at Putney Library, art on the Angel Community Canal Boat in Islington and Indian dance at the Bull Theatre in Barnet. Challenging yet achievable, person-centred and rewarding for all, the workshops have enabled participants to revive creative skills and develop new ones. They have helped restore confidence, energy and social interactivity so that participants (person and carer) can enjoy once more a sense of wellbeing in the community. With the Government campaign for earlier diagnosis1, our approach offers direction to enable people to live as fulfilled a life as possible with dementia.
As well as our own programme to establish a new re-energising model for people in the early stages of dementia and carers (to be published in late spring), we encourage arts venues nationwide to upload their events for people living with dementia in the community to our website. This will enable families nationwide to locate opportunities in their chosen art form closest to where they live.
Veronica Franklin Gould is Chief Executive of Arts 4 Dementia.
- ‘Unlocking diagnosis: The key to improving the lives of people with dementia’, All party parliamentary group on dementia report, July 2012