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How can the arts help us understand dementia as something other than a deficit?

Learn how the arts can help us to understand dementia in ways which do not concentrate on loss and deficit.
I think there’s often a focus that dementia equals loss and equals deficit. And I think that that comes from the perception that dementia equals loss of memory, and if I can’t remember the names of the people in my family, the jobs that I’ve done, my achievements, the holidays I’ve been on, then how do I know who I am? But if we stop and think just for a moment, you know, we are so much more than our memories. We are our emotions, we are our senses, we are our physical bodies, we are the movements that we make in space, we are the choices and preferences that we have at any given moment. We’re even our sense of humour, for example.
So we are so much more than just a memory. People shouldn’t be seen just in terms of their losses, or their deficits. So whilst to some extent, most dementias do involve some sort of loss, this might not need to be the defining characteristic of the condition. After all, if we were all seen only in terms of our deficits or our losses, none of us would come out too well. I’ve used this notion of us, of people, of persons being ‘broad’, in a sense, in developing an idea of persons as situated embodied agents. So the ways in which we are agents is fairly straightforward in that we do things, we make decisions, and so forth.
The ways in which we’re embodied is also reasonably straightforward, in that we have bodies, we need them to do physical things. But none of these things is completely straightforward, because it’s not just that we need bodies to do things. It’s not just that how I present to you at the moment depends on all sorts of biochemical things going on in my body. It’s also that actually my body projects me in some sort of way. But I think the crucial concept in these three words– situated embodied agent– is the notion of being situated. And so it’s the situation-ness which gives us the breadth.
And I suppose what art does is it helps us to see some of that sort of breadth, so that we– of course, we’re situated in a sort of intellectual world where we have thoughts and so forth, but we’re also situated in a world where we have feelings and sensations and intuitions, and we have moral views about things, and we have spiritual experiences, et cetera.
So I think that– so the arts in some way help us to see that breadth, because the arts cover so many things, and they are such a part of what it is to be a human being in the world.

Watch Julian West, Dr Hannah Zeilig and Prof Julian Hughes explain how the arts can help us to understand dementia in ways which do not concentrate on loss and deficit, but rather on the other characteristics which make us human and give us identity.

This includes:

  • How a loss of memory – as often experienced by people living with dementia – does therefore not imply a loss of identity.

  • That a loss of a cognitive ability caused by a dementia does not have to become the defining characteristic of person -for some it can release creativity.

  • The concept of individuals being ‘Situation Embodied Agents’, and how the arts are well-placed vehicles to convey this notion.

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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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