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Dementia and Dancing Babies

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 together we chaired a meeting at TAIKE and exchange with people from all over Central Finland working in the healthcare sector using the arts.  A blog about the mutual interview we conducted, is in the making!

Baby Dance Hour

The use of the arts for dementia is currently in the limelight. There is a good article in the Guardian, Forgetting But Not Gone: Dementia and the Arts about current projects in this field. Dementia is a public health priority, there is currently no cure 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. Moreover, as I and others have written with regard to non-pharmacological approaches to mental health; there are no nasty side effects!

To my delight, 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. I was eager to see the effects for myself and really hope that I find similar programmes available at home, and when I go to the US in November to continue this journey. The session was led by a teacher in African dance and attended by nine local Mums and babies, who come very week for ten weeks. It is funded by the Mums who oay for a ten week course. The organisation comes from an equivalent of a healthcare profeasional Activities or Arts Co-ordinator who is employed by the public sector.

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The class unfolded in the centre of the room and without exception held everyone’s gaze for the entire session. 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 knew what he meant. Nobody fell asleep and nobody left. The gentleman next to me continued to chat intermittently, quietly in Finnish, and Paulina 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 quite 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 surpised me; these people were invited because they typically experience high levels of restlessness or agitation, or aggression. This was remarkably absent from the room and 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 a lot and have a full schedule, I cannot always write in great detail, and anyway, this is a blog and not an academic paper. My colleague Dr Catrin-Hedd Jones, my equivalent Lead Researcher on 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 wonderful and moving experience at this fabulous centre, with social and skill groups ranging from music to fishing to growing food to creative writing, here.

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A report for the Winston Churchill Trust will be a key outcome of this work, and contain greater detail  than the blog, and recommendations. Seminars will also take place in Manchester.

Kat completed her Clinical Psychology Doctorate at Lancaster University in 2013. She has worked in a range of settings, both clinically and as a researcher, most recently as a Lead Researcher at Arts for Health at MMU. Katherine also works in the NHS in Children’s Psychological Services. Kat has published her work and presented to a range of audiences, from health professionals, to artists, academics and entrepreneurs. Her work includes public engagement and gallery-based exhibitions.

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