Guest Post: “State of the Arts”

Ducks on the Wall” founder, John Mills, on the state of art

The number of Americans living with dementia is growing — and growing fast. In fact, it is estimated that by mid-century, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds! To help combat this soaring trend, and to improve the lives of millions of people living with dementia, a variety of state-of-the-art products, technologies and interventions have been developed which are reinventing the care sector. New research, increased understanding and advances in technology mean there is now a whole host of innovations available, specifically designed to help improve environments and make life that little bit easier for people with Dementia.

Latest technologies include a variety of exciting new apps including: Apps designed to improve balance, apps to help reduce isolation and keep people with dementia connected, and apps that make people’s homes dementia-friendly, with advice on how to change the light, furniture, colour contrast and reduce noise. There is even an app available that has been especially created to highlight the many challenges faced by those with dementia, offering people an invaluable insight into what it is like for those who have to live with this currently incurable condition.

However, it is not just technology, and ever more innovative apps, that are helping to improve lives. In recent years, there’s been increasing recognition of the power of art for boosting the wellbeing, happiness and engagement of people with dementia. Research has found that art allows people with dementia to tap into their imagination. Art displayed in care homes, can not only trigger memories and engagement between the person with dementia and the artwork, it also actively encourages staff to have more meaningful conversations with residents by inviting increased narrative and story telling.

One example of how art can effect positive interaction is that of one care home resident who, on viewing a painting of a white horse, was reminded of a time when she rode horses as a child. She went on to recount a story to her carer about how, when she was about nine, she rode bareback into the fields to bring sandwiches and coffee out to the men working there. Certainly art has the power to evoke many positive behaviours in residents; like laughter and smiling, leaning forward to listen and the sharing of personal meaning and reminiscences. Indeed in some cases, it has even encouraged a few to offer up their own critiques!

Powerful as it can be, much consideration needs to be given to each artwork presented. To hold attention, prompt engagement and encourage narrative, people with dementia need images that will appeal to their own particular taste, and that have relevance to their own life experiences, both past and present. Subjects such as landscapes, seascapes, gardening, cooking, sport, places, nature and animals are broad topics that everyone has some knowledge and experience of, and that, for some, may have particular importance. Style, contrast, texture and colour also need careful consideration. Bold photographic or painting styles, vivid, warm colours, high contrast, a sensory / textured element and a strong sense of narrative that encourages story telling, allow the best opportunity for people with dementia to connect with, understand and appreciate the experience. Little wonder then that more and more experts, occupational therapists and organisations are recognising the use of art’s many benefits and are actively recommending displaying images that help to stimulate memories and create a focal point for conversation and reminiscence.

Researchers are only now beginning to understand how images can be used to aid communication, even in the late stages of dementia, and although more work needs to be done, there seems little doubt that ‘Dementia-Friendly’ art not only provides the potential for a positive experience for people with dementia, it also offers a low cost, high impact solution that would brighten up any home. John Mills Ducks on the Wall