Established in 2009, the Arts and Older People’s programme (AOP) is a partnership between the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI), the Baring Foundation and the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency. Focused on the promotion of social justice and alleviating isolation and loneliness; the AOP is aims to strengthen the voice of older people and promote their health and well-being through the arts. In 2019 the ACNI commissioned Sonrisa Solutions Ltd to produce a trilogy of three-minute films that distil key learning from the AOP with regards the arts and dementia.
The films draw on interviews with organisations funded by the AOP, experts in dementia, people with dementia, carers, and the arts council. Charactering the AOP as a flagship programme, Ms. Nóirín McKinney, Director of Arts Development at the ACNI, located the work with people who have dementia within the context equality legislation. The Arts and Older People’s Programme Officer, Ms Lorraine Calderwood, drew on demography and epidemiological data to stress the imperative for investment in the arts and dementia to ensure that people with dementia are supported to live with dignity. Dementia experts, including Wendy Perry from University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre, provided rich insights into dementia and explanations as to why the arts are vital in promoting communication, dignity and personhood for people with dementia and carers.
Two flagship initiatives were selected as the focus for the films. The first, Eastside Arts, is a community arts project located in the heart of East Belfast, which runs a dynamic series of arts-based programmes for older people, including people with dementia and carers. The second initiative is a tripartite partnership between the Oh Yeah community arts centre, the Ulster Orchestra and the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust. The purpose of this collaboration is to bring high quality music to people who are living with dementia in residential setting or attending day centres.
The films highlight the importance of taking time to get to know the person, their likes, interests and abilities. The arts are portrayed as a powerful way to counteract barriers and challenges to communication and enable the person with dementia retain autonomy. Working together with people across different sectors and disciplines emerged as crucial in maximising the potential of the arts to make a positive contribution to people affected by dementia.
Film one in the Arts and Dementia trilogy is entitled ‘In the moment’. Drawing on contributions from a person who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and a range of professional experts, it provides an overview of dementia and how the arts help promotes dignity for those people living with the disease.
Film two, ‘Living life to the full’, draws primarily on the experience of full-time carer Ms Diane Lowry and the work of Eastside Arts, to illustrate the power of the arts to alleviate social isolation and transform lives of carers.
Film three, ‘Ronnie’s story’, captures the liberating effect of music on Ronnie a resident in an NHS facility in Belfast. The film presents a music workshop delivered by the Oh Yeah Music Centre, the Ulster Orchestra and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. It includes interviews with the home manager, musicians, activity co-ordinator and Ronnie.
The films were premiered at an arts and dementia consultation workshop for artists in Belfast on May 22nd, 2019. Feedback from participants in the workshop and from all those actors involved with the films has been universally positive.
~Dr Una Lynch, Sonrisa Solutions
If you would like to find out more about how activities can be meaningful for someone living with dementia, check out DSDC’s Making Activity Meaningful for People with Dementia course.