Everyone can benefit from creative activity and this is no less the case for people living with dementia. Active participation in an arts activity liberates a person to express feelings and emotions, to re-construct their thoughts and re-imagine their world. The arts are enjoyable, they give pleasure; and they bring about positive health and social benefits. The arts are multi-sensory and inclusive: there is an art form to suit every person, irrespective of their disability.

This week is ‘Creativity and Wellbeing Week (6th – 10th June 2018) so, in this blog, I aim to highlight some of the excellent organisations and projects that offer opportunities for people with dementia and their carers to engage in creative activities to promote health, wellbeing and enjoyment.

Creativity and Wellbeing Week is the initiative of London Arts in Health Forum (LAHF) - a membership organisation for artists, clinicians, service users, indeed, anyone with an interest in the healing benefits of arts. LAHF offers events, training sessions, advice and support with the aim of promoting awareness and understanding of the benefits of the arts and encouraging the use of arts activities in settings beyond the mainstream. LAHF is keen to widen the availability of arts activities, particularly to people who are at risk of exclusion.

Resonate Arts is a London based charity that provides arts projects for people with dementia in care homes, day centres and the community. In addition, Resonate Arts engages ‘Creative Befrienders’ to work with people with dementia and family members in their own homes. The inspiration for ‘Creative Befrienders’ was founded on the hypothesis that a number of identified former artists, who had been diagnosed with dementia and were service users of the Westminster Memory Service, would benefit from tailored, expert support to continue participating in arts activities, whilst living with their dementia. ‘Creative Befrienders has proved to be highly successful: Resonate has recruited a pool of artist volunteers as creative befrienders from across three London boroughs. The befrienders are matched with people living with dementia who, in their pre-dementia lives, have been artists (musicians, art dealers, authors, illustrators, milliners, dancers, exhibition curators, photographers etc) or who are/have been very interested in the arts. Together they create art, talk about their shared passions, plan cultural visits, attend arts projects. The outcomes are positive: the relationships that develop are appreciated and valued as a means of social connection, and the shared arts activities enrich the lives of those living with dementia and their befrienders.

Created Out of Mind is an arts and health residency at the Wellcome Collection in London, combining science and the creative arts to explore and shape perceptions and understanding of dementias. Over the past 18 months, ‘Created Out Of Mind’ has engaged in a range of projects that combine the work of scientists, artist, academics, broadcasters, clinicians, family carers and people living with dementia, with the aim of challenging traditional definitions and common misconceptions and creating new meaning of what it means to live with dementia by learning from the people who know best – people with dementia themselves #whatdementiameanstome

Last week I was privileged to be involved with a networking forum for arts practitioners working with people with dementia and family carers hosted by Arts 4 Dementia in partnership with Dementia Pathfinders.

The day was vibrant and filled with energy. Everyone was eager to learn and take part. The keynote speech was given by Polly Wright from The Hearth Centre and a series of interactive workshop offered learning based on music, dance, poetry and drama. In the plenary session, participants reflected ‘take away’ learning about confidence, courage, taking risks, safety structures, encouraging connection and the importance of mutual support and continuous development of practice.

Arts 4 Dementia provides regular training for arts practitioners specifically focused on early-stage (mild) dementia, and provides creative activity programmes for people living with dementia (usually at home) and their family carers in partnership with arts venues in London. Their current programme is poetry based, held on a weekly basis at the National Poetry Library in the Southbank Centre with writer and poet Nick Makoha.

An All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing was launched in January 2014. Peers and MPs with a shared interest in the field of arts and health come together for regular events to hear about and discuss the latest developments relevant to current policy priorities

In November 2015 the APPG launched a two-year Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry in collaboration with King’s College London and in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’s Charity and the Royal Society for Public Health Special Interest Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing. Evidence was gathered about the benefits of the arts, which included a call for practice examples. The inquiry report “Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing” was launched in Parliament on 19th July 2017 and at Manchester Metropolitan University on 21st July and is available here.

I have highlighted just a small number of projects and initiatives that engage people living with dementia and their carers with the arts. If you know of others or are involved yourself with delivering arts activities for people with dementia, in care home settings or in the community, please do get in touch to let us know. We would be happy to invite you to write a guest blog for Unforgettable website, or we can include your project in one of our future articles or blogs.

Whether you are involved in delivering music, dance, poetry, creative writing, life drawing, ceramics, drama, needlecraft, painting, photography …. or any other creative activity, we would be pleased to hear from you. At the Arts4Dementia networking forum last week, we had a debate about whether cooking was art. We decided that it was – so cooking counts too!

You can contact me at askbarbara@unforgettable.org or by telephone at the Unforgettable office.