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Creating common ground through multisensory arts practices

Arti Prashar describes how multi-sensory arts practices can engage people on deeply emotional levels and create common ground for people with dementia
When we first started out, we really create shows for people living with dementia. So the first show that we did was very verbal, and I’ve now moved on to producing non-verbal shows for them, and they’re very interactive shows, and they’re very multi-sensory as well. In our show, we have a scene where it’s night time, and there’s a huge moon, and we asked somebody if they wanted to go for a walk. It’s a projection, if they wanted to come for a walk in this midnight scene. And they did. And they came, and they walked, and they were listening to music as we were walking through the streets of a city.
And at the end of it, they just laid their hands, and they put their head– sorry, their head onto my shoulder, just resting, which is a beautiful moment. That, for me, is a moment of connection and communication that someone felt safe enough. I don’t know what they were thinking. I don’t know what story they were telling themselves in their head. But actually, I just knew that they felt comfortable enough to just lay their head on my shoulder. Another moment has been when we use sensory work, we use massage and smell. I was massaging a woman once, and it’s always interesting that we’re always doing to people when people are living with dementia.
I guess the trick is, how do we enable them to feel useful again, and how can they kind of be active still living with dementia? So as I was massaging, my intention always is is that can I get this person to at all give me a massage back, and she did. Without speaking. So this is done without words. You know, we kind of will take the cream, we’ll put it on our hands, we’ll smell it, we’ll let them smell it. And if they like it, then we’ll put a little bit on their hands, and then start massaging. And as I was doing that, she suddenly grabbed my hand and started to massage my hand.
And I can guess where she was going. She was obviously located in her past. It felt like she was massaging the arm of a child and had done that so often, you know, like she’d be either washing. That’s what it felt like, either she was washing someone’s arm or she was massaging it, or cleaning it. Those, for me, are really powerful moments. On a personal level, my mother had vascular dementia, and I took her to see my show which was a non-verbal show. And I let her watch it. I stood in the back, because I let the artists take the lead. Immediately afterwards, it resonated with her hugely, and she just couldn’t stop talking about it.
Three months later, she brought it up again with me, and then six months later, she brought it up again with me, to say, “When are you taking me back to see The Garden?” So just on that level, I think it does resonate, and I think, if you touch someone deeply, emotionally, it will resonate with them, because it’s embodied. It becomes embodied– we’re beginning to talk about what the worth and the value of emotional intelligence in this work, as well. And it’s there. It’s absolutely there, and I think if you touch people that deeply with the emotions, I can’t believe it doesn’t stay with people.

Arti Prashar (Artistic Director and CEO, Spare Tyre) describes how multi-sensory arts-based practices can engage people on a deeply emotional level and can create opportunities for creating common ground with people living with dementia.

Watch as Arti provides examples of non-verbal moments of connection that have arisen out of the multi-sensory participatory practices that she has created for people living with dementia, and explains the importance of moving away from the practice of giving experiences to people with dementia, putting the emphasis instead on making them feel useful and active again.

CREDITS We would like to Spare Tyre for providing supplementary footage for this video: * ‘The Garden’ – Victor Rios / Spare Tyre * ‘Once Upon a Time’ – Josh Grigg / Spare Tyre.
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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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