The positive role artistic activities can play in the lives of people with dementia has gained more interest and attention in recent years.
But when it comes to gauging the real value and impact of art and meaningful activities in a care home setting, what standards should be used by those who inspect care?
This was the central challenge for a project DSDC undertook for the Care Inspectorate, the body that scrutinises and develops care services, with a particular focus on care homes.
The role of the Inspectorate is to make sure that services are fit for purpose and delivering all that is required by national standards. Of course meaningful activity is an important element of this, along with spiritual care and person-centredness. The problem is that in the area of Art, many care workers, services providers and inspectors simply lack confidence in their capacity to judge the quality of what is provided.
What DSDC Did
DSDC provided a safe space for staff, artists and inspectors to discuss together what is practical and what is ethical in the provision of aesthetic experiences for people who sometimes have little control over their environment.
What we did together was to explore what “Art” means for people with dementia in care. In the “art room” people might undertake crafts for entertainment and distraction, or self expression, maintaining established skills or simply playing. Staff are relatively comfortable in this area, although the ethical dilemma of displaying “child like” outcomes of these sessions was explored.
The inspectors wanted educational sessions from DSDC to explore what art is, and whether it has a special place in the lives of people with dementia.
Practical solutions to the problems of providing a satisfactory artistic experience were to be placed side by side with considerations of how to measure whether it is satisfactory.
DSDC has long experience of listening to, working with and communicating with people with dementia, sometimes long after others believe communication is no longer possible.
The event enabled inspection staff to work out what was causing them problems and what approach to take to overcome them.
They explored the issue of whether their own lack of confidence about what is good art was inhibiting their confidence in being able to judge a good artistic experience, and concluded that the critical issue for them was not to judge what is right, but whether the resident is getting what they themselves think is best.
With the “art therapist” the person with dementia can explore feelings and problems and this is controlled by registered training and experience. Apart from these, by experiencing music, poetry, painting, sculpture or any art as a “consumer” the person with dementia can experience the emotional and intellectual stimulation of art. It’s not just about the pleasure of beauty, but also stimulating other emotions, as when someone cries over a sad picture, or is made to laugh by an amusing poem.
Why this matters
The person receiving care should have access to as much of “what they like” in art as is humanly possible, and not have this element of life experience reduced to the lowest common denominator of popular music and mundane mass produced pictures; or be forced round a national gallery listening to Beethoven.
The project helped inspectors arrive at the conclusion that the key test for the therapeutic value of engagement with any form of art in a care home setting, like for so much else, is whether it is person-centred.