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How can the arts help us understand dementia?

Prof Seb Crutch and Julian West explain how the arts can convey aspects of the biology of the dementias which scientific methods may not be able to.
I think the arts have a great role in communicating the experience of dementias, partly because of their capacity to be varied. So again, as we’ve talked about already, it’s dementias, not dementia. But even if you take just one condition, like Alzheimer’s disease, for some people, it will particularly affect the front of the brain, and therefore, decision making and personality and social behaviour. For some people, the back of the brain, therefore, affecting vision, seeing what and where things are. Some people more one side of the brain, so perhaps language will be more effected.
And the arts have a huge capacity, I think, to enable people to continue to express and find forms of expression and communication with other people about their internal states, which may not be possible still in the traditional way. And so if you’ve lost your words, it’s very easy to feel cut off from the world. But actually, if you can express yourself through other media, I think that’s very powerful. And I think the arts are also hugely important in communicating about the experience of dementia because of the way that they connect people living with dementia with those around them.
So most of us will experience some artistic experiences on our own, but also many of us, in public or in relationship with other people who are important to us. And I think for someone who feels, for example, that they may have lost their partner, their husband, their father, whoever, and to see them then in a light in which they’re enlivened and passionate and moved, delighted, tearful, fearful, whatever the response may be, I think can remind people and emphasise how much of the person remains and whether that’s through their creativity or through their emotional state.
And so I think it’s really, really critical that people continue to remember– and I think that arts are a great vehicle for this– that people with dementia continue to experience many varied things about their interactions with the world, as all of us do. The way that I got involved with Created Out of Mind was that I had an email from Seb Crutch, who is the director of the research, asking if I’d be interested in meeting him. And it was the first request for meeting I’d ever had from a neuropsychologist. So I jumped at it.
And we had a really, really fascinating conversation, actually, in which he was telling me how the sciences, and his discipline in particular, can work with technology and can scan the brain and can measure and all these kinds of things to try to understand the dementias. But what they weren’t able to do was to understand how it might feel for people. And that that was why he desperately wanted to work with artists. Because obviously the arts are a mechanism and a way for people to express and communicate what their experience of the world is. I was really excited by this. [LOGO MUSIC PLAYING]

Professor Sebastian Crutch and Julian West explain how the arts are able to convey certain aspects of the biology of the dementias which more typical scientific methods are not able to.

This video outlines:

  • How the arts can serve as a vehicle for expression when certain abilities have been lost.

  • How the arts can provide a way of connecting with people and the world around you.

  • Some of the limitations of typical scientific methods in helping to understanding the biology of the dementias.

Do you have any examples of how you or somebody you know who lives with dementia has been able to express themselves through the arts, even when certain cognitive abilities have deteriorated? Perhaps you may have experience of this yourself, even if you don’t have dementia. If you feel comfortable doing so, please share your experiences in the Comments area, being careful not to reveal any personal information.

CREDITS We would like to extend a special thank you to the following individuals and organisations for providing supplementary footage and images for this video: * Equal Arts * University of Bradford * James Berry/ Wigmore Hall * Dementia Research Centre.
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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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