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The art of dementia care

Dementia is a global and emotional issue. The progressive impairments of this incurable disease can interfere with many years of life before it leads to hospital or long-term care. After diagnosis, most support is provided by close family – a picture that is the same all over the world.

As research is carried out across a wide range of fields to improve dementia care and treatment, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that creativity enriches the lives of individuals with dementia and their carers. This evidence has helped to stimulate interest in the use of arts and creative activity to enhance dementia care.

Research at the University has contributed to knowledge about artistic practices in dementia, increased workforce capacity and helped to secure sector engagement in the region, while influencing the national debate.

The work of Professor Justine Schneider, of the School of Sociology and Social Policy and the Institute for Mental Health, has included a series of two-day workshops for people with dementia and their carers – on dance, theatre, music and visual arts – and the research-based play Inside Out of Mind about dementia carers in hospital, written and directed by playwright Tanya Myers. Arts-led day care is being provided for up to 20 people with dementia at a dedicated site near the University, while singing groups have encouraged people living with the condition and their carers to come together and enjoy music on a regular basis.

Professor Schneider said: “The potential of music in care is massive. It can humanise care settings by reminding us that we all have feelings as well as bodies. It can bridge the gap between young and old, trainee and teacher, patient and professional. Music can even make communication possible when language is lost. Music inspires and unites people.

“However, very often, care staff and relatives of people living with dementia are unsure how best to use music.

"Our research has demonstrated how the arts – music, dance, theatre and visual art – can be implemented effectively to engage people with dementia and their carers"
Professor Justine Schneider

“We are developing a range of approaches and resources to help them recognise their own skills and expertise and identify their future development needs.”

Research findings suggest that even people who are significantly disabled by dementia can participate in activities that provide a wide range of sensory stimulation in a responsive way.

Professor Schneider’s work has demonstrably improved the care that people with dementia receive in the community and in residential settings in a number of ways:

  • by raising awareness of the benefits of arts-led interventions in dementia care regionally and contributing to the national discourse in this growing field
  • by developing capacity to deliver the arts in dementia settings by training care staff and arts practitioners in approaches to deliver both music and dance
  • by helping to underpin a local community of practice that promotes the arts in dementia care

 Professor Schneider said: “In the UK alone, 800,000 people are currently living with this condition. Life with dementia can be bleak, and carers often find themselves at a loss to know how to help. But dementia does not destroy a person’s imagination, nor their capacity for enjoyment.

“Our research has demonstrated how the arts – music, dance, theatre and visual art – can be implemented effectively to engage people with dementia and their carers, both in the community and in residential homes.”

Justine Schneider

Justine Schneider has been Professor of Mental Health and Social Care at the University of Nottingham since 2004. She has expertise in mental health service evaluation, carers, care homes, costs and supported employment for people with any kind of disability or disadvantage. Her current work focuses primarily on dementia and staff development, and she is exploring innovative approaches to knowledge exchange in dementia care through the arts.

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