An Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis can often lead to a person becoming cut off from the things they used to enjoy, including creative outlets. But that shouldn’t be the case, writes Emma Bould, programme manager for Dementia Friendly Communities
Participating in creative activities can play a crucial role in treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as ensuring a high quality of life. Everyone has a right to participate in the arts, and for people living with dementia, we know that there are many benefits. It can improve quality of life and well being by becoming a stimulating and enjoyable experience.
Aspects of socialising and remaining independent can be difficult when a person develops dementia. After a diagnosis people can feel isolated and unable to visit the venues and partake in the activities they have come to enjoy. We know that participating in the arts can also be key to unlocking memories, accessing a creative part of the brain that can help to restore personal identity and reduce the various stresses that are associated with symptoms of dementia like memory loss, co-ordination and challenges around communicating.
Alzheimer’s Society Singing for Britain service is just one example of how arts participation – in this case group singing – can provide a way for people with dementia, along with their carers, to express themselves and socialise with others in a fun and supportive group. The activities also build on preserved memory for song and music in the brain – many people find music easier to recall than other memories.
All art venues and professionals should work towards enriching the lives of those affected by dementia and consider how its activities, work and programming can be accessible to all people, including those with dementia.
Alzheimer’s Society recently launched Becoming a dementia friendly arts venue: A practical guide, which explains how this can be achieved. For people with dementia, arts venues can be stressful environments especially if they are easily disorientated, have mobility issues or dislike crowds.
In order to create a better experience for people with dementia in the arts, art venues should consider having clear signs where necessary, provide a quiet seating area where people with dementia can take ‘time out’ if they are finding it difficult to cope with noise and other distractions. Of course, it is not just about audiences – dementia affects artists themselves.
Careers in the arts are wide ranging and diverse and so when someone is diagnosed with dementia and works in this field there are greater opportunities for them to be reassigned to a different work area with the same job satisfaction, linked to their passion and enjoyment but simply with a different role to play. While there isn’t a one size fits all approach to supporting people with dementia, Alzheimer’s Society has produced a guide Creating a dementia-friendly workplace. This helps employers gain an understanding of dementia, how it impacts organisations and the practical steps they can take to support employees to continue to work.