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P11: Art and dementia

Detailed programme, abstracts and presentations

P11: Art and dementia

P11.1. The power of theatre – creating bespoke performances for an audience with dementia


Scottish charity Hearts & Minds researched and developed the Elderflowers programme for people living with dementia with encouragement from the Dementia Services Development Centre in 2001. Elderflowers uses European style theatre clowning to connect with people in the mid to advanced stages of dementia, in healthcare locations across Scotland. It uses a unique clown family concept to positively transform healthcare environments by creating meaningful and lasting relationships with participants, family members and healthcare staff. Elderflowers uses the performing arts to encourage communication, interaction and laughter and create links with participants who are often otherwise considered as ‘hard to reach’. Their trade-mark is the red nose, widely considered the smallest mask in the world. It connects the performers with their own vulnerability, openness and playfulness and acts as a visual focus, a point of recognition and signifier for the participants. It facilitates being ‘in the moment’ and sharing their vulnerability and humanity.

As a recent Paul Hamlyn Breakthrough Fund recipient, Artistic Director, Magdalena Schamberger is currently in the process of researching and developing bespoke performances for an audience of people living with dementia and their carers, to invite them into theatre and community settings and to include and engage them in stimulating cultural activity. In addition she is developing an experiential training programme for artists from all art forms, to increase engagement with this particular audience group. Most recently Magdalena has adapted an existing version of “A Clean Sweep” by Plutôt la Vie, which was performed at Festival Theatre Edinburgh in February 2015, in what may have been Scotland’s first professional dementia friendly performance. In ‘The power of theatre – creating bespoke performances for an audience with dementia’, Magdalena will share her research journey and her attempt at creating a methodology to encourage and enable other artists across Europe to follow suit.

P11.2. “A Place to Sit”

BLACK Kevin, NELSON Deirdre

“A Place to Sit” came from a partnership between Alzheimer Scotland and Luminate; Scotland’s Creative Ageing Festival. Deirdre Nelson (artist) was commissioned to work with people in Glasgow with a diagnosis of dementia, over a period of ten weeks, to create something which would go on display, as an example to the public of what people with dementia CAN do, CAN create and CAN contribute.

Two of Alzheimer Scotland’s Glasgow services got involved and a total of 27 people with dementia participated throughout the project.

It started with conversation, getting to know people, and then, introducing images. Participants chose images they liked; felt drawn to or that meant something to them. Taking these images as a starting point participants were then offered different ways to get involved including drawing, painting, tracing, colouring, making collages and making decisions.

Over the course of the project the participants created wonderful, vibrant images of their own. Their enjoyment was clear to see and hear with those who usually didn’t say much sharing stories and those who don’t always participate getting involved and making decisions. They decided to use their designs for tablemats and coasters to use within both services and so the final designs were scanned into the computer and sent to an online company to turn them into tablemats and coasters.

The positive outcomes for the participants continued with increased self-esteem and self-worth from seeing their work turned into a professional, useful product and knowing that others wanted to buy their designs. The original tablemats and coasters are now back with both services, being used every day with the designs sparking conversations and memories for all.

This presentation will show that the processes were simple, the involvement was varied and the outcomes were positive and powerful. It will also highlight how this project is now a part of Alzheimer Scotland’s “Spotlight” series, taking what was learned; the techniques to encourage involvement, the positive outcomes, and the simplicity of it, and sharing that with staff to enable and encourage them to embrace art to enrich the lives of people living with dementia.

P11.3. Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts:  Fostering meaningful art experiences for persons with dementia


Coming from the art and health perspective, the presentation will address the use of creativity to foster meaningful intergenerational relationships for persons with dementia.  Using University of Michigan (U-M) Professor Anne Mondro’s course, Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts as a model, the presentation will focus on designing creative experiences to invite discussion and an exchange of knowledge through imagination, experimentation, and discovery. 

Uniquely engaging U-M academic units and the U-M Health System, Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts focuses on developing students’ sensitivity and understanding towards those experiencing changes in memory or thinking through shared art experiences.  Students from across campus meet with specialists in neurology, public health, social work, and the arts to learn about the scientific basis of memory and dementia, the societal basis of dementia, and institutional projects to support persons with dementia. 

Partnering with the U-M Geriatrics Center Silver Club Mild Memory Loss Programs, students are paired with persons with dementia to explore and enjoy their creativity through visual art, music, dance, and writing.  Through these sessions, students and persons with dementia explore the potential of the arts to serve as an outlet for expression.

The speaker will key cover course objectives and learning paths designed to nurture compassion through creative experiences including overcoming pre-determined attitudes about aging and dementia, exploring the benefits of creativity, and utilizing the expressive arts to improve one’s quality of life.

Through creative project vignettes, the speaker will address the necessary training for students to work with persons with dementia and emphasize how to design and facilitate reciprocal creative experiences. The vignettes will also capture reflections by students and persons with dementia to illustrate how creativity is a tool for connecting to others.

P11.4. Innovative gallery project connecting art, community and people with dementia

SERRANI Virginia, DARVO Gianluca

While Alzheimer and other dementia diseases are rapidly growing all over the world, we should find some way to pull care facilities, people and Alzheimer disease itself away from the corner, opening buildings and minds.

Create specific semipublic spaces into dementia facilities to host social functions and activities can be a vehicle to improve active involvement, inclusion, and integration of patients, relatives, stakeholders, and the whole society. For this purpose, we have chosen to place an art gallery in the wandering path.

We have chosen art as a vehicle to connect what and who is inside and outside facilities because art is mainly perceived through emotive channels, and it is not always necessary to use the cognitive sphere. Art reaches every people, even if in different ways, regardless their physical or cognitive frailties.

The permanent art gallery we created in the wandering path of the Daily Centre for Alzheimer disease in Fano (Italy) is called “Margherita” and is open both to daily center guests and to external visitors and citizens. The aim of the project was to create a strong element of integration among the centre, its users, and the city.

Hosting art exhibitions in a permanent art gallery, the wandering path has become a semipublic space, open to accommodate in rotation artworks from professional painters and sculptors from the territory. Now it is a key support not only for wandering, but also for occupational, physical and pshyco-social activities.

This project is an important resource from two points of view: artists and community can use some spaces in the Alzheimer Centre and, on the other side, people affected from dementia benefit from the presence of artworks and visitors in the facility, with a global improvement of culture and social interaction.

P11.5. Ageing and dementia in children’s literature


The presentation of specific topics in children’s literature is a good indicator of how society understands and treats them. We analysed how biological ageing is presented in children’s literature and integrated into the broader social picture of ageing. We were specifically interested in the presentation of age related diseases such as dementia. We analysed picture-books published in Slovenia and the UK since 1990. A search of UK´s and Slovenian biggest archives of children's books resulted in 104 British and 73 Slovenian picture-books dealing with either older people, ageing or age related diseases. We found that less than 10% of all picture books from our selection included elements of biological ageing. This percentage was similar in Slovenian and British books; however there were more high quality presentations of biological ageing in the British sample of books. In children’s books older people are rarely presented as ill: two British picture-books featured older people that suffered from dementia and one discussed respiratory diseases, while in the Slovenian set one book featured a granddad with the flu and another grandparents with confusing unnameable diseases, including some symptoms of dementia. Death is discussed mostly on the metaphorical level and only four picture-books in total touched upon the process of dying. We reached the conclusions that rare inclusion of biological elements in children’s literature indicates that society is anxious of science as well as of diseases and death and considers this topics inappropriate for children. However, rare exceptions among the analysed books that communicated ageing and diseases such as dementia in all their complexity (e.g. Reeve Lindbergh’s My liitle grandmother often forgets) succeed to address their target public by retaining their emotional impact and adding to their vibrancy.



Last Updated: Monday 28 September 2015


  • Acknowledgements

    The 25th AE Conference in Ljubljana received funding under an operating grant from the European Union’s Health Programme (2014-2020). Alzheimer Europe and Spominčica gratefully acknowledge the support of all conference sponsors.
  • European Union
  • Roche
  • SCA Global Hygiene