Following a rich exchange with the Ministry of Education and Culture in Helsinki on Monday, I travelled three hours north by train to Jyvaskyla, a major city in Central Finland. There I spent two days with the team at TAIKE Arts Promotion Centre to find out more about their scope and projects.
My host Pauliina Lapio is an Arts Development Manager and to share learning and practice, together we chaired a meeting at TAIKE and exchange with people from all over Central Finland working in the healthcare sector using the arts.
Baby Dance Hour
Dementia is a public health priority: there are currently no known cures and anyway, it’s effects are far broader than the neurological symptoms. People experience anxiety, low self-esteem, stigma and social isolation. There is a lot of interest in non-pharmacological interventions that can improve quality of life and allow people to remain engaged in imaginative or creative activities and grow new skills. The use of the arts for dementia is attracting great interest, and recently the Guardian ran a good article on this, Forgetting But Not Gone: Dementia and the Arts details current projects in this field. Moreover, as I and others have written with regard to non-pharmacological approaches to mental health; there are no nasty side effects!
I was eager to see the effects for myself and on my second morning in Finland I was fortunate to observe a mother and baby dance hour which took place in a residential care home for adults with dementia. The class unfolded in the centre of a large room, led by a teacher in African dance. Nine local mothers and babies attend every week, funded by the mums who pay for a ten week course. The organisation comes from an equivalent of a Activities or Arts Co-ordinator who is employed by the public sector.
The movement and rhythm of the dance session was enthralling and without exception held everyone’s gaze for its entirety. The music was gentle but pretty loud and bassy! The gentleman sat by my side commented on this in Finnish, and tapped his chest where his heart is, so I’d vaguely know what he meant. Nobody fell asleep and nobody left. The gentleman next to me continued to chat intermittently, quietly in Finnish, and Pauliina kindly translated his short and sweet stories of giving ladies flowers at dances when he was young.
Like the residents I am also of course mesmerised by the sights and sounds of a mother and baby dance troupe, but I kept my attention on the elderly people in the room, catching the eyes of the nursing staff doing the same. With only one group per week, afterwards I asked the Lead Nurse how she chooses where the class will take place and who will observe. Her reply surprised me; these residents were invited because they typically experience high levels of restlessness, agitation or aggression. This was absent from the tranquil room as the levels of concentration and genuine enjoyment on people’s was evident.
As we left, babies and toddlers were exploring the room, choosing to approach anyone and everyone without discrimination. The mothers simply watched and there was a deep sense of connection and unity across the ages. “People just want to be seen” said one of the mums to me later, who is also a Music Therapist.
For more and better info…
As I am travelling and have a full schedule, I can’t always write in great detail, and besides, this is a blog and not an academic paper. My colleague Dr Catrin-Hedd Jones (Dementia and Imagination) has written a fascinating article for The Conversation, ‘Combining daycare for children and elderly people benefits all generations.’ This is an excellent article full of resources a even a link to a documentary. Her writing and this approach to caring for our elders fills me with hope. I think the idea of mixing the generations in this way is simply common sense, but importantly, also an ethical and spirited solution to the challenge of providing quality care and connecting communities.
To be continued!
Continuing our journey, Pauliina and I spent the afternoon at to Trombi, meaning Culture Club, a refreshing and innovative approach to offering non-medicalised peer support for mental health to young people where the focus is “on the healthy half of human.” You can read about my moving experience at this successful centre, with social and skill groups ranging from music to fishing to growing food to creative writing, here.
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