My 96 year old Nan tells me care homes are a huge improvement on the one she had to leave her mum in, all those years ago. She is of course right. There are some excellent care homes out there with dedicated caring staff. It is then sad to read an Alzheimer’s Society survey suggesting that care home residents received approximately two minutes of meaningful conversation every 6 hours (Brookes 2008, Alzheimer’s Society, Home from Home report, 2007). That is a scary statistic and heartbreaking if it is your relative sitting there with nothing to do.
I believe that our wellbeing is heavily correlated with our opportunity to share our stories and for our stories to be validated and respected by others. If we do not have this opportunity, then we are more likely to encounter social isolation, boredom, loneliness and/or depression. In danger of such isolation and depression was a resident called Margaret, a lady with Alzheimer’s, who was becoming more and more withdrawn each week, according to her daughter. With the right stimulus, perhaps we could reconnect Margaret to her sense of self.
The Ignite Programme was developed to provide people at all stages of dementia with a space to communicate, interact and share their stories. The programme trains people working in health and social care organisations to deliver Ignite sessions and provides a monthly pack of materials to do so.
An Ignite session is a structured virtual art gallery tour delivered using an iPad or tablet. The great thing about art is there is no right or wrong, and pretty much everyone has an opinion. The format of the sessions is simple and structured. Neither facilitator nor resident need have any knowledge of art. Sessions are themed, and the accompanying materials include dementia-friendly questions to provoke discussion along with historical information to give context and ‘chat points’ which provide an opportunity to reminisce.
Irrespective of the stage of a person’s dementia, the session is an experience where response is the focus, not remembering, creating an opportunity for people to communicate and to be heard. An Ignite session is a safe space where people are not judged. Anything goes, and sometimes it pretty much does! With this safety comes confidence and, often, communication. For some it may be sitting on the edge of their seat, eyes wide, listening intently. Margaret began with just a few words and the occasional nod. But as the sessions progressed, so did her confidence. At the end of the sixth session we looked at a colourful painting of figures dancing. When asked what she thought of it Margaret sat up, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “The mood and the colour of that piece move right through me”. This was just the start of some wonderful insights and stories that she shared with the group.
At Engage & Create we are passionate about working with health and social care teams to enable them to become expert dementia communicators and create supportive environments for them to do so.