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Researchers Explore the Use of Arts to Improve Dementia Care

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Four researchers are embarking on a project to explore how creative arts such as music, dance and drama can improve dementia care.

‘The Arts and Dementia’ (TAnDem) doctoral training centre, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society and jointly hosted by the University of Worcester and the University of Nottingham, is supporting PhD students to investigate the impact of creative arts activities on the increasing numbers of people living with dementia.

Two students, Karen Gray and Amy Veale, are beginning their studies at Worcester and Emma Broome and Emily Cousins will carry out their research at Nottingham. All students will benefit from the wealth of expertise from both universities working together in partnership.

Professor Dawn Brooker, Director of the University of Worcester's Association for Dementia Studies and lead TAnDem researcher at Worcester, said: “Many families and people working in care know the enjoyment and sense of purpose that singing, music, dancing and creating art work can bring to people at all stages of dementia. Through this new research programme, we aim to identify how to use these creative energies for the most benefit to people living with dementia.

“We will investigate how to use creativity to help people feel connected to others and will ask whether particular arts activities are more effective at different stages of dementia. We hope that the answers to these questions will benefit people with dementia and their families worldwide.”

Karen Gray has joined Worcester from specialist arts and health consultancy, Willis Newson, in Bristol. Her PhD will focus on evaluating the impact of existing arts-based interventions and activities in dementia.

“This studentship brings together a number of strands of interest for me,” she said. “The impact of the arts and creative activities on health and wellbeing; the pressing need to improve the quality of life and care of people living with dementia, and the many fascinating practical and theoretical challenges involved in evaluating projects in this area.”

Amy Veale comes to Worcester from AGE Northern Ireland, where she was their research manager. Her PhD will look at which arts-based interventions will suit which people.

“Having worked with older people for the past eight years, I’m aware that effective approaches to dementia care need to consider how individuals can be supported to live fulfilling and dignified lives that go beyond having their basic needs met,” she said. “As such, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to continue working in this area alongside other researchers and artists and I’m very excited to be part of a new chapter in Worcester.”

TAnDem is one of eight new doctoral training centres across the UK, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, which will explore different areas of dementia research. Over the next three years these centres will support 55 new PhD students and clinical research fellows, giving a huge boost to the numbers of researchers currently working in dementia.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Creative arts can be a great way to provide intellectual and social stimulation for people living with dementia and we hope to learn more about how they can have the most benefit. This doctoral training centre will help to build on a thriving research community at the University of Worcester for these early-career researchers to develop their skills and make a difference for the 850,000 people with dementia in the UK.”

There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, including about 14,000 in Nottinghamshire and 10,000 in Worcestershire. Four of the new centres (including the Nottingham-Worcester centre) will focus on dementia care and services research while the other four will focus on biomedical research to increase understanding of the causes of dementia and accelerate progress towards better treatments and ultimately a cure.