What is it like being part of this complex but exciting research project?
I have recently joined the Dementia and Imagination project team and thought it would be interesting to give a newcomer’s perspective.
As I’m sure some will appreciate, the past two months have been filled with both apprehension and exhilaration. My background in Health and Social Care and Gerontology has provided a good understanding of dementia and the effects it has on a person physically and mentally, their family networks and wider society. So being part of a project that has wellbeing and social connectivity at its core is very important to me.
Nevertheless, during these initial weeks, it has started to dawn on me the sheer scale of this project and the journey I have embarked on. Fortunately, the team involved at Swansea University and the D and I team members are not only exceptionally supportive but also diverse in their knowledge and experiences of research, dementia and participatory art - an expert pool to immerse myself in.
Where do I fit into to the team?
My role is to explore ‘social contagion’ using social network analysis. Primarily, I am focusing on the perceptions and beliefs of the artists involved in the interventions and how this may or may not have an influence on the artist’s community (community of practice), the organisation where the interventions are held (the community of place) and wider society.
One of the overreaching questions in this part of the research is to establish if visual art interventions can change and sustain beliefs and attitudes towards people with dementia, consequently creating a framework that has dementia friendly principles at its core. However, due to the pioneering nature of this part of the project, there is a lack of academic literature that can be drawn on that concerns itself with social contagion and this type of visual arts intervention.
The closest study identified that can be realistically replicated is the research of Coleman et al. (1966). Their study observed the acceptance of a new drug by General Practitioners and the adoption rates throughout the community of practice. It also elicited individual discussion network data in order to examine social contagion. This study has been the building block for the analysis plans of my part of the project. Although it has not been straightforward to adapt, it is clear in the early stages that it promises some interesting results, which is hoped will produce an in depth framework that will move closer to assuring wellbeing, social connectivity and integration of people with dementia.