My background in theatre may seem strange for this project but there were several reasons I wanted to be involved.
Firstly, my PhD involved studying audience participation in theatres described as being ‘immersive’. I was particularly interested in the use of the senses to create these theatres and in how ethically interaction with audiences was being done. I saw some benefits in some participatory theatre practices to improve well-being and I am interested in how the arts can be used to do this. So, this is one interest that I share with this project’s approach.
Second, , I don’t think there are many people these days who don’t have a relative or friends or someone they know affected by dementia, the stigma that surrounds the illness and the despondency that encompasses a diagnosis. Certainly, it’s something I am aware of within my own family. Rather than tackling treatments and cures, this project offers new ways of thinking about the person with the illness and ways of enhancing their quality of life. I hope we can challenge some of the assumptions that are made about the elderly, particularly those with memory problems, and make known their abilities and cape able-ness beyond their dementia diagnosis.
Thirdly, I’ve long been aware that documenting art processes is a difficult task. Much of the time, many of the more interesting things that happen (usually where things go wrong, or have to be developed and changed), get lost along the way. Artists are being asked to evidence these processes and critically reflect on their work in more nuanced ways. My thesis was a practice-based PhD, meaning that I made performances as well as researched them. I think this project is working in new and interesting ways in bringing together the arts and sciences in considering the benefits to both areas of knowledge.
I think it’s very exciting to be working in such a mixed-discipline team and actually very helpful: certainly in connecting across some of the usual separations between art and science; research and practice. There are many distinct and varied talents contributing within the project that, for me, make it a great team to be a part of.
Highlights so far for me have included meeting the artists on the project at a training day held in Manchester. We began to see the early formulation of consensus as to how artists are working with people with dementia, the specifics of delivering engaging and enjoyable activities that stimulate and challenge, as well as providing fun! I’ve enjoyed being able to dive straight in helping to prepare for our intervention groups this summer, and doing some of the background review work as well.
In terms of challenges, well, there’s a lot to learn! Some of the theoretical methods and ways of doing things are new to me. I’ve never worked in a large research team before or with people with dementia, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the arts interventions unfold and to seeing improvements in our participants during the process.