Dementia art project hopes to unlock creativity

15th March 2017

A two-year art projected titled ‘Created Out of Mind’ has been launched with hopes of tackling the public’s perception of those suffering with dementia and to unlock creativity among patients. 

The £1 million initiative is supported by the Wellcome Trust and is located at the top of the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road in London. The project has been set up by Sebastian Crutch, a neuropsychologist in the Dementia Research Centre of University College London, as he aims to develop better tools for assessing the value of using art with people who live with dementia. 

Mr Crutch believes that the wider public perception of the illness relates to the stereotype of an elderly loved one sitting blankly in a care home, unable to speak or recognise relatives, reports the Guardian. 

The ‘Created Out of Mind’ team - which includes scientists, visual artists, musicians, broadcasters, clinicians and carers - hope that the project will allow them to learn about art, consciousness and the brain from the experiences of dementia. 

In the past, efforts to involve dementia patients in the arts have been perceived as “giving them something to do”, explains Mr Crutch. However, this project is beginning to show that these types of activities can actually reveal creativity by impairment of an individual's resources for regular communication. 

Commonly, those who suffer from types of dementia interpret the world in a different way, affecting how they label concepts. Words and sentences are often coherent but are produced with great difficulty by the patients, as they struggle to connect words with the appropriate vowels. 

“Everyone thinks vision means eyesight – they don’t connect vision problems with dementia. But most people with Alzheimer’s will experience visual impairment at some stage,” explains Mr Crutch. 

One patient on the ward suffers from a type of dementia that affects the part of the brain where language is processed. While the patient can articulate words quickly and accurately, he can’t generate language around the subject and instead has to improvise with finger gestures or drawings. 

The project consists of two research themes - ‘People and Perceptions’ and ‘In the Moment’. The first theme explores personal experiences and current representations of dementia in everyday stories. This could be through social media, music and contemporary fiction to bring these stories to light. The latter theme looks at how different people living both with and without dementia respond to various experiences such as visiting art and exhibitions, handling objects or hearing music. The team working on the project will measure responses in many ways including through wearable devices or by observing the way people paint an image. 

"We are thrilled to have the opportunity to bring together people from so many different disciplines and backgrounds to engage in a practical and authentic piece of interdisciplinary research,” said Mr Crutch. 

“This project was spurred by hundreds of conversations with people living with different forms of dementia, and it is only by developing, deepening and broadening those conversations that we can achieve our goal of delivering novel toolkits, methodologies and ways of thinking to enable us to better understand and use the arts in dementia."

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