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INNOVATION

Using the arts to reduce isolation in dementia

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People with dementia can often feel isolated and disconnected from the world. Access to the arts can give them a sense of inclusion and help staff to connect with them

Citation: Peinaar L et al (2014) Using the arts to reduce isolation in dementia. Nursing Times; 110: 42, 18.

Authors: Lorinda Peinaar is occupational therapist clinical specialist; Geoff Ward is clinical specialist nurse both at Mental Health of Older Adults and Dementia Clinical Academic Group; Helen Shearn is head of arts strategy at South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust. All are leads for the Journeys of Appreciation project.

Introduction

Many people with dementia become isolated and disconnected from the world around them because they are unable to take part in the activities most people take for granted. The Journeys of Appreciation project aims to reduce this isolation by taking people with dementia on visits to museums and galleries, followed by creative and therapeutic workshops.

Reconnecting with the world

The three-year project is funded by the Maudsley Charity and run by the Mental Health of Older Adults and Dementia Clinical Academic group (MHOAD CAG), a partnership between South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust, the Institute of Psychiatry and King’s College London that provides services to people in south London with dementia or those aged over 65 with severe and complex mental health needs. The visits help inpatients from three MHOAD CAG units to reconnect with the world and experience activities they may have taken part in before their illness prevented them from doing so.

The visits and follow-up sessions can help and encourage the completion of “life stories” as staff use them as a way of communicating with individual patients and getting to know them better. The aim is to provide patients with a sense of wellbeing, social inclusion and recovery.

In the programme’s first year, creative and learning partnerships with the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Horniman Museum, Tate Modern and Tate Britain were established.

Benefits of the project

Staff and patients who have taken part in the project are beginning to report benefits including a sense of freedom by going out and getting away from the ward. The joint experience of learning together is proving to have a positive impact on how the wards “feel” and work on a daily basis. One staff member said:

“I was amazed about the interaction with Rob [a patient] because I’d never seen that side of him before. I learnt so much about his history and interests - things he never shared with us on the ward.”

Another commented:

“I think it was good for people’s confidence. Most people said before we went, ‘Oh I’ve never painted before, I can’t paint, I don’t know how to do it’ but, at the end, when we were showing what everyone had done, I felt that people were quite proud of what they had achieved.”

The project has been able to fund the purchase of three digital cameras for each ward. These have been used during museum and gallery visits to help record and capture patients’ memories as well as to enhance the displays of photos and pictures on the ward walls. We plan to develop this aspect of the project in year two by commissioning some local artists to work with us.

Ward staff involved in the project have been offered the opportunity to attend a number of training days. These have included object handling, how to approach life-story work, and conducting and evaluating a therapeutic visit.

Further courses with the Horniman Museum and Tate Modern have included awareness of various learning styles, and sensory and creative engagement approaches, along with techniques and sharing best practice.

Conclusion

The project team continues to provide opportunities for all ward staff to join in with the initiative - not an easy task in a busy and demanding environment. A variety of ward-based creative and therapeutic training and workshops are being offered and further ways of measuring the impact on the patient experience, as well as ward culture, is being explored to help future development. 

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