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Art & Dementia – everyone can have an opinion

6 November 2015

NCF Blog by Rachel Mortimer

Rachel Mortimer, Founder, Engage & Create describes a project using an iPad for a virtual art gallery tour

There are so many things I love about what I do, not least getting to meet amazing people whether it is those living with dementia or those caring for them. 

It has always been clear to me that relationships between care staff and residents are key to quality of life for both groups - happy residents need happy carers and vice versa. Yet despite the many passionate carers I meet, an Alzheimer’s Society survey suggested that care home residents received approximately two minutes of meaningful conversation every 6 hours (excluding care-giving activities). (Brookes 2008, in Alzheimer’s Society, Home from Home report, 2007).  

I believe that our wellbeing is heavily correlated with our opportunity to share our stories and for our stories to be validated and respected by others. If we do not have this opportunity, then we are more likely to encounter social isolation, boredom, loneliness and/or depression.  In danger of such isolation and depression was a resident I know called Margaret, a woman with Alzheimer’s who was becoming more and more withdrawn each week according to her daughter. With the right stimulus perhaps we could reconnect Margaret to her sense of self. 

The Ignite Programme was developed to provide people at all stages of dementia with a space to communicate, interact and share their stories. The programme is designed to skill up those working in dementia care, so that they can master the art of effective communication. This is useful in all areas of caring and the key to facilitating Ignite sessions. It is also an unashamed push to introduce technology to activity in care. A backlit screen and zoom function is a gift to anyone with visual impairment, and given the RNIB estimates half of older residents in care homes have some form of sight loss it could be a valuable tool.

An Ignite session is a structured virtual art gallery tour delivered using an iPad or tablet. The great thing about art is there is no right or wrong and pretty much everyone has an opinion. The format of the sessions is simple and structured. Neither facilitator nor resident need have any knowledge of art.  Sessions are themed, and the accompanying materials include dementia friendly questions to provoke discussion, along with historical information to give context and ‘chat points’ which provide an opportunity to reminisce. Irrespective of the stage of a person’s dementia, the session is an experience where response is the focus, not remembering, creating an opportunity for people to communicate and to be heard. An Ignite session is a safe space where people are not judged. Anything goes, and sometimes it pretty much does! With this safety comes confidence and improved communication. For some it may be sitting on the edge of their seat, eyes wide, listening intently. Margaret began with just a few words and the occasional nod. But, as the sessions progressed, so did her confidence. At the end of the sixth session we looked at a colourful painting of figures dancing. When asked what she thought of it Margaret sat up, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “The mood and the colour of that piece move right through me”. This was just the start of some wonderful insights and stories that she shared with the group.

With an increased focus on meaningful activities to improve quality care, the challenge of finding suitable solutions for people with all levels of dementia which also inspire staff is on. It is time to embrace the opportunities, culture and technology on offer for those living with cognitive impairment. As one CEO recently commented after watching an Ignite session “I’ve never seen a level of interaction like it”. It is amazing how a clear image and structured conversation can engage people and help create deeper relationships. 

So few care homes are using tablets with residents and yet getting online is such an important part of future-proofing settings. How many of us would be willing to live without our online world? 

Rachel Mortimer
Engage & Create         

If you would like to contribute a guest blog for NCF, please email April Ross, Membership Coordinator

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have recently produced a report on Dementia: through the eyes of women, about a project aimed to inspire people to think differently about women and dementia by using stories and reflections from individual women to inform the debate in a unique, inspiring and insightful way.

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