What is Creative Care?

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The wonderful Christina takes a closer look at the reasons why the Cultural Arm of the Kent DAA created and delivered the Creative Care Expo. 

Creative Care and Dementia

The Cultural Arm of the Kent Dementia Action Alliance hosted a very successful Creative Care Expo in Maidstone in early February, which showcased the fantastic projects happening across the county to engage older people, and those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, through creative arts.

A quick walk around the exhibition centre found stalls displaying sculptures, painted tiles, decorated boxes, and a person singing on a guitar. Rochester Literature Festival led two taster Reminiscence sessions in the spirit of the Memory Box project, which were very well-received and enjoyed by everyone who attended.

Most people now know what dementia and Alzheimer’s are. Last year, dementia was named as the leading cause of death in England and Wales, due to people living for longer, better treatment for other conditions like heart disease, and better diagnoses. But what does art have to do with dementia? What is creative care and why do we need it?

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Coping with Loneliness

With the growing number of people living with dementia, adult social care is under tremendous strain. The majority of people at residential care homes have dementia issues of some sort. There is an insidious yet commonly held belief that the problem ends when the person with dementia moves into a care home.

Every person’s experience of dementia is different, and not everyone will adjust easily into a home. The transition from leading an active life in society to being dependent on other people in daily living can be as devastating as the disease itself. Loss of independence, personal identity, lack of a sense of purpose, and disconnection to society can have negative effects on physical health, as well as creating further mental health issues like depression.

The recent Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness has called on organisations and communities across the UK to tackle the growing problem of loneliness that is quickly but silently taking over society.

  • A third of people with dementia said they lost friends following a diagnosis. Almost 1 in 10 only leave the house once a month.
  • Around 3.6 million people aged 65 and over agree that the television is their main form of company.
  • More than 1 in 3 people aged 75 and over say that feelings of loneliness are out of their control.
  • Up to 50% of disabled people will be lonely on any given day

(Statistics from Jo Cox Commission, research studies by Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK, Independent Age, and Sense)

Currently, the healthcare system mainly focuses on disease management and often fails to attend to the emotional and social needs of people with dementia or other disabilities. To tackle the problem of loneliness among the disabled and people with dementia, it is important to recognise the need for an inclusive, whole-person approach to care that caters for wellbeing as well as physical health.

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What is Creative Care?

Creative care is a creative arts-based, person-centred approach to healthcare. Creative care can include anything from dancing, painting, singing, to storytelling and acting. Unlike medical care, which focuses on treating and managing physical symptoms, creative care is about paying attention to the person as an individual, not just as a patient.

“This is underpinned by an understanding of inclusional and responsive practice, relational dynamics, and the improvisational nature of engagement and of ‘being in the moment’ (mindfulness). These are all skills that are at the heart of creative practice and this is one of the reasons why artists – be they visual artists, dancers, singers, musicians, actors or craftspeople – work well in this context.” (United Response, ‘A creative approach to dementia care’)

Creative care is not about creating great works of art or turning participants into artists but engaging people in creativity activities and encouraging them to express themselves. Art can be a means of empowering people with dementia, who may often feel powerless and isolated from others as their conditions progress.

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Stories, Memories and Creativity

The projects exhibited at Creative Care Expo 2017 are examples of how art can have a positive impact on the lives of people living with dementia. The Friends’ Dementia Support Group at a residential care home displayed a table-full of beautiful painted tiles, surrounded by photo collages of the residents who created them. The tiles were painted by residents at the home, many of whom had dementia. Those who had limited dexterity in their hands were unable to hold paint brushes but nevertheless participated by using their hands to print. Another stall ran by a PhD arts therapy student showed 3D printed sculptures designed by people with dementia using an app on an iPad, then printed by the machine. These are great examples of how art is accessible to and enjoyed by people of all abilities and experiences.

ReminiScent was at the Creative Care Expo and showcased some wonderful Smell and Connect cards that can be used in reminiscence sessions. The cards have different pictures, prompt words and scented stickers with smells such as chocolate, tomato or laundry, which are designed to stimulate conversations about the memories triggered by the smell. Like the RLF’s Memory Box project, ReminiScent also believes in a creative, multi-sensory approach to helping people with dementia.

Although reminiscence therapy primarily aims at assisting people with dementia recall their memories, it can also bring strengthen participants’ emotional wellbeing by offering opportunities for socialising and sharing stories. Smells, sounds, tastes, colours, textures can trigger memories that are otherwise forgotten and stimulate rich, meaningful conversations in which participants learn about themselves as well as other people.

Reminiscence Taster Creative Care Expo Rochester Literature Festival

Reminiscence workshops usually use a variety of objects from the past, like old magazines, toys, music records, postcards or clothing that can help people remember things they used to do and stories from their lives. These sessions of sharing memories can be very valuable moments of bonding for residents, staff and their families.

Reminiscence is not just about nostalgia or recalling precious memories in the past but also creating new ones in the present. Although there is yet no cure for dementia, art makes a huge difference in improving the quality of life for people living with dementia, and the experience of making art can be rewarding for both participant and artists. Dementia often comes with a narrative of losses – loss of memory, sense of self and friends. Art changes loss into creativity, and gives people confidence and self-esteem through engaging their imagination. The successes of all the creative care projects at the expo show that art is not a ‘luxury’ we can afford to lose. The arts have a meaningful place in healthcare and we need to harness the power of art to change the lives of people living with dementia for the better.

Top 4 image credits: Christina Lee