- To explore the medical, emotional and social issues surrounding dementia through experimenting in various art processes with patients suffering from dementia and their carers.
- To bring a greater understanding of the patient’s experience of dementia and its impact on carers and families via a public exhibition of art work created.
- To contribute to the debate on how to de-stigmatise dementia and the social isolation it brings.
- To celebrate the participants’ creativity.
Through specially tailored art sessions both patients and carers were afforded an opportunity for self-expression and creativity. These sessions ran in two phases providing weekly art sessions:
- Over eight weeks for carers of patients with dementia at the Blanchardstown Carers Association Centre, Dublin.
- Over 20 weeks for patients with dementia at the Age Related Day Hospital of the Adelaide & Meath Hospital, Dublin.
Being aware from research about the importance of the familiar when working with dementia patients, the artist, Lucia Barnes, began by taking photographs of participants to use for self-portraits, and over time introduced imagery such as favourite chairs, food, cups, and styles. Using pencils, charcoal, pastels and paint, Lucia encouraged patients to draw and paint pictures and thus gain a sense of themselves.
The artist consulted with Dr. Arun Bokde of Trinity College Dublin on the use of neuroimaging based markers in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and non-personalised brain scans were sensitively introduced as inspiration for artwork after a 10-week period. Accounts of patients’ experiences while undergoing brain scans were also transcribed. The material produced at the art sessions was collated by Lucia into collages, and some were photocopied and manipulated to bring further artistic interpretation.
The Carers group were given an opportunity for self-expression by developing their drawing and painting techniques. During the art sessions Lucia listened to their stories about caring for their relatives, living and deceased. Through discussion different ways of creating artworks were considered that would best represent how the diagnosis of dementia impacted on their lives.
An internal evaluation of the project was carried out by the National Centre for Arts and Health. Due to the patients’ diagnosis and the emotional difficulties and stress facing carers, a simple evaluation form was developed which asked: Has attending this art group been of benefit to you? If so how?
The internal evaluation includes the background to the project and its development in response to the lack of access to the arts programme at the hospital for patients with dementia; specific achievements; responses from staff, patients and carers; the artist’s report; and challenges and recommendations for future arts projects at the Age Related Health Care Unit.
Responses from patients, staff and the artist
- The patients said that they relaxed while doing the art and enjoyed learning a new skill. They were very intrigued to make something with the brain scans, with one patient commenting: ‘… from looking at the brain scan, I saw different pictures in them. I used to like drawing when I was young and I felt I was doing something I liked.’
- The patients felt they benefited by having the opportunity to access a specifically tailored art group while in hospital: ‘I enjoyed the peace and quiet every week and a chance to do art.’
- The clinical staff members noted the benefits to the patients of exploring the unknown through using brain scans and attempting to make sense of a very scary situation.
- Staff believed the art sessions stimulated the patients’ minds as patients tried to remember what image they had seen and to imagine what the end result would look like.
- Staff also highlighted the sessions as a motivational tool for patients to interact with people who had the same health issues as themselves.
- Artist Lucia Barnes said of the project: ‘I believe my art practice has been enriched by my involvement in this project. I’ve been given an insight and enhanced understanding of the impact of dementia on people’s lives, through my research and the meaningful engagement with patients and carers in the art sessions, and listening to the daily challenges they face.’
The art sessions for the carers provided the opportunity to develop new skills and an introduction to a creative outlet that could later be pursued at home. It also gave individuals the chance to share stories, both funny and sad, and empathise with each other in a group camaraderie setting.
The importance of a partnership approach
The teamwork approach between the staff in the Age Related Healthcare Unit and the National Centre for Arts and Health was crucial to the delivery of the project. A project of this nature only works when the clinical team is totally supportive and engaged. To this end, an artist with experience of working in healthcare settings, who was sensitive to patients’ needs and who understood the vulnerable nature of the group was of paramount importance. Support and advice from The Carers Association aided in the implementation of the art sessions for carers.
The internal evaluation undertaken by the National Centre for Arts and Health made two key recommendations:
- Group sessions specifically for people with dementia would be beneficial as there was a mixture of people in the age related group.
- A dedicated room for arts in the hospital so that patients can attend an art group in a safe space without interruptions.
Documentation and Dissemination
There was photographic documentation throughout the project. The consultation with key staff in the hospital and the National Centre for Arts and Health was also documented.
Memory Found emphasised inclusivity and artwork from all the participants was collated by the artist into collages for a public exhibition at the Rua Red Gallery, Tallaght in 2012. Artwork from the project is now on permanent display at Tallaght Hospital.
Artwork from Memory Found was also displayed at a seminar entitled Arts and Alzheimer’s, held at the Royal College of Physicians Ireland on 28 Novemver 2012. Artist Lucia Barnes and Hilary Moss, Director of the National Centre for Arts and Health, AMNCH, presented an ‘Overview of the Arts and Alzheimer’s project’ at the seminar.
The Age Related Health Care Unit, Tallaght Hospital; Dublin Blanchardstown Carers Association; Arun Bokde, PhD, Trinity College; and Tallaght Hospital, Dublin.