The current government lockdown has been hard on families across the nation, indeed the world. Having to stay within our individual households has meant a loss of contact with loved ones and a sense of isolation, particularly for the most vulnerable members of society. People over 70 have been advised to stay indoors for 12 weeks, which is an exorbitant amount of time to be away from the embrace of family and friends.
For those who care for individuals with additional needs, it can be an even lonelier time. A lot has been seen in the news and on social media about opportunities for families with children being home schooled and staying fit and healthy, both physical and mentally, but what about our older generation? The individuals who are well enough to be in the own homes but not well enough to cope on their own?
We spoke with Nigel Franklin, CEO of Arts 4 Dementia (A4D), to understand a little more about the amazing work A4D do for early stage dementia patients and their carers and how they have adapted their litany of programmes to continue this support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Arts 4 Dementia is a charitable organisation that was first set up in 2011 by Nigel’s sister, Veronica Franklin-Gould, after she witnessed how listening to music helped her mother, who was at the time in late-stage dementia and mostly non-verbal, emerge from her cocoon of silence to ask questions of a cellist who had taken the time to visit and play for her. See a video ‘Art. The best medicine’
When she heard the music, Nigel noted, “her eyes lit up and when he had finished, she said how much she had enjoyed the music and asked about his career”.
This astonishing reaction led Veronica, who was herself a writer and researcher, to investigate further into the impact of music and arts with people of dementia. She found that there was a wealth of information to say how important this connection was, but a gaping hole in the market for those in the early stages of the disease.
Whilst care homes and nursing homes were well tuned to arts programmes for their residents, very little was being done in the community to support those who were in the early stages of diagnosis, a time when many need support, both emotionally and mentally.
The diagnosis of dementia can cause real shock to individuals, and a side-effect of this shock and depression can be apathy. Getting individuals to take up new challenges and experience new opportunities can be difficult, especially if they are not aware of the opportunities around them, and so that is where Arts 4 Dementia steps in.
Arts 4 Dementia has helped train numerous organisations run workshops and art offerings to individuals with dementia and has, as of 2020, helped train 800 people to run workshops around the country to meet the needs of around 15,000 people a year who have dementia or care for someone with dementia. Reaching both patient and carer is vitally important for A4D. Nigel emphasised that “carers are the unsung heroes for those who suffer from dementia” and the workshops they can attend help both individuals connect with art and each other.
As Nigel explains, “the idea of the workshops is to provide challenging arts to do, not simplifying the tasks or infantilising the participant with dementia. Respect is at the heart of what we do. Just because people have dementia they are still worth the effort and deserve to be treated as such. We aim to give the most stimulating arts opportunities for those who attend and we work with major arts organisations such as the Royal Opera House, Museums, Southbank Centre etc – offer training for free in exchange for space to run the workshops with a variety of art providers. An additional benefit is networking and knowledge sharing with other practitioners doing similar things across different art forms looking to provide an outstanding and stimulating experience for people living with dementia and their carers”.
These seed initiative programmes have proven so successful that institutions such as the Royal Opera House and the Garden Museum in Lambeth have continued on with the arts offerings following their partnership with A4D, helping to bring a sense of normality and creativity to individuals who may struggle to cope with their diagnosis. For the volunteers and carers the biggest reward is seeing an individual who is struggling blossom with creativity and do so well enjoying new experiences and perhaps learning new skills.
Arts 4 Dementia is based in London, but spends time researching arts opportunities across the country and has a helpful map on its website to show where there are events and workshops for people living with dementia going on throughout the year. The listing now shows remote access arts opportunities.
Veronica, who remains President of A4D, handed the running of the venture over to Nigel and she now focuses on managing the Social Prescribing Program that they are developing and many other interesting projects. In May 2019 A4D hosted the first national conference on Social Prescribing for Dementia (Arts and Heritage) at the Wellcome Collection. This conference saw leaders across various fields from NHS to Academia, as well as leading Dementia organisations, share knowledge and best practise of supporting dementia patients with a variety of social options that support or work alongside any medical route taken. So popular was the conference that it sold out 5 weeks prior to the event, highlighting a real interest and need in supporting individuals with creative and social intervention.
Naturally the lack of physical presence has been a real challenge. [But no A4D programme has been stopped by the lockdown. The two arts programmes under way at the time are both now being delivered by Zoom.]
Withdrawal of these services would have been a real loss to attendees whose highlight of the month or week is attending these classes.
“COVID-19 has had an effect on the events we put on as they physically cannot attend classes, so we have been looking at what we can do to enable people to benefit at home. We are all facing a lock down but the older community are particularly challenged by it,” says Nigel.
“Some people may not be able to see their carer if they do not live in or see their family and it’s really important to have opportunities that continue to stimulate. We have a couple of pilot programs in Southwark that is running called Dance for the Brain run by Siobhan Davies Dance and Muse of Fire at the Southwark Playhouse, which have transferred to Zoom so that people can be online together. There is something really valuable about being together with other people, seeing each other at the same time in a workshop.”’
Additionally, within a week or two of lockdown A4D started a zoom arts group called Chatty Wednesdays.
Anyone affected by dementia, or is a carer, can register and join online and they will be sent a link. Each week has an arts focus (music, painting, drawing etc) which shows the talent people have. Find out more here.
Nigel talked about a couple who attend each week whose daughter also attends online so that she can see her parents in a social gathering. Each week the husband shows the art work his wife has done with a great sense of pride and that is essentially what Art 4 Dementia is all about – recognising people’s innate artistic ability or talent even if they may not be able to express it or show it themselves.
If you, or anyone you know, has a loved one who has recently been diagnosed with dementia, then this is a great way to try new things, meet new people and help reengage the brain with creative input.
Thank you to Nigel Franklin for his time.
To find out more about Arts4Dementia see their website
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