A local NHS Trust has teamed up with a national opera company in a unique dementia project.
Bradford District Care Trust and Opera North joined forces to explore the positive impact the arts can have on the lives of people with dementia.
Staff from the Trust’s Older People’s Mental Health Services (OPMHS) worked alongside professional artists to use singing, dance and storytelling to provoke powerful memories and stimulate the mind.
The University of Bradford are now evaluating feedback from the eight week project. Dr Sarah Jane Smith, Lecturer in Dementia Studies and member of the Bradford Dementia Group said: “The evaluation will help us to better understand the impact of this type of project on the well-being of people with dementia and their companions. Whilst there is consensus that community arts based approaches have beneficial effects, generally these have been under evaluated meaning that there is limited evidence as to why and how these approaches work. We will evaluate the effects of the sessions on the well-being of the participants involved. These findings may help to guide the development of similar projects in the future.”
Ten service users and their companions attended the weekly sessions in Keighley to take part in activities designed to spark memories, feelings and images from their past. Sounds, sights, textures and even smells were used to aid reminiscence.
Sessions were themed and the first week saw a shoreline recreated complete with sand, buckets and spades and even old fashioned swimsuits to transport participants back to a time they’d visited the seaside. They also acted out the story of “Arthur and the Lion” as portrayed by Stanley Holloway.
Other themes included school days, going out, celebrating and birthdays. A wedding and christening were recreated where people took on roles including the vicar and bride and the group even held an assembly and sports day on the school days session.
Opera North sourced props for each topic including original clothing from the fifties/sixties, an old school bell, shaving brushes, curling tongs, postcards, wedding hats and buttonholes.
Rebecca Walsh, Head of Education at Opera North, said: “Being able to see and hold items they recognised from their past was a powerful trigger for those taking part. The response to the sessions was fantastic; all the participants had a real passion for music and drama and we have been really impressed by their talent and enthusiasm.”
Everyone got involved whether acting out roles, singing, reciting poetry or retelling stories.
Rebecca added: “We know from research that has been undertaken that there is a strong connection between music and memory. Working in partnership with Bradford District Care Trust gave us a great opportunity to create a project with both lasting impact and meaningful contact with participants.”
Eileen Murdoch attended the sessions with someone who has dementia, she said: “Wonderful. You made a difference to our lives.”
In the last three sessions each couple’s personal story was brought to life through photos and the storytelling skills of one of the professional artists. They also learnt and performed songs handpicked by members of the group for having a significant impact on their life.
Linda Tomlinson, Allied Health Professionals lead for OPMHS, said: “The sense of well-being through singing is widely recognised and there’s been a lot of research around this. Some people who can’t actually speak are still able to sing because it uses a different part of the brain, so where communication is an issue for them it can be a great release for them and a very positive experience.”
Those taking part will have a lasting memory of the project as a book is being created for them with their photographs in and some of the texts they’ve been working with during the sessions.
The project was funded by a ‘Night of Opera’, held by the Trust and Opera North last summer, which saw service users, staff and professional artists sing together at an event which raised £4000.
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Notes to Editor:
- Bradford District Care Trust provides community health, mental health and social care services for people across the Bradford, Airedale and Craven districts. The Trust also provides specialist support for people with learning disabilities.
- Find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/bdct02
- Follow us on Twitter: @Bradford_DCT
- Opera North aims to breathe new life into the Arts in the North of England, inspiring audiences, engaging communities and challenging preconceptions.
- Opera North Press contact: Lindsey Porter, Press & PR Manager, Lindsey.firstname.lastname@example.org 01132 2233526.
- The Bradford Dementia Group was established in 1992 at the University of Bradford, as part of the Bradford University School of Health Studies, to develop teaching, education and research in the field of dementia care. Their mission is to improve the quality of life and quality of care for people with dementia and their families, through excellence in training, education and research, recognising the key role-played by practitioners and professionals.
- Find the group on facebook:www.facebook.com/pages/Bradford-Dementia-Group/159919097355319