Winter update from the Dementia and Imagination study

Dementia and Imagination

Connecting Communities Through Art

Our final instalment for 2015 with updates on our recent events and activities…

We can’t believe how fast 2015 has gone! In the next few months we’ll be analysing all this information kindly shared with us by our research participants. As a team we’re now thinking about how we can share our findings in the best ways and places in 2016. In this edition, we’ve got news from a couple of our recent events that we have organised, such as an exhibition in Derbyshire and the Dementia Education and Inclusion Meet-Up in North Wales.

Over 120 people living with dementia have taken part in the research, providing an insight into the their experience of the art groups. Their carers and relatives have also given their thoughts on what they thought about the groups as well.

We’ve collected data in lots of different ways: sending out surveys, filling in questionnaires, observing people during the art groups, held focus groups and interviews with the group members and the artist’s have provided their reflections on the art sessions. A huge thanks is owed to those who took part and gave us their thoughts, feelings and opinions for the research, without which it couldn’t happen.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and look forward to the New Year, digging into all that data and getting to the really exciting bit: sharing what we found, what it all means and why it is important.

The D & I team

Dementia Education and Inclusion meet-up

A very special two days were hosted in Llandudno in November. Inspired by Dementia champion Chris Roberts’ ( desire ‘to make a difference whilst he can’. The ‘Meet-up’ placed the person living with dementia in the centre of the arrangements and discussions. Presentations included Prof Bob Woods discussing the benefits of art for people living with dementia. The CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society shared their vison for Dementia Friendly Communities and Ruth Ely gave an update on the work of TIDE supporting carers.

Experts by experience shared generously of their perspective. Kate Swaffer, chair of the Dementia Alliance International ( ) talked about the need for dementia to be recognised as a disability to ensure basic human rights are preserved. She also emphasised the importance of authentic rehabilitation after diagnosis to include exercise, balance, and access to speech and language therapy. 

Agnes Houston sharing a booklet developed to raise awareness of sensory loss in dementia

The guide has been immensely popular and she invited everyone to take a book, read it and ‘if you have the expertise please take action’. A free copy of the guide is available online: (

Informal table discussions gave a choice for attendees to learn more about the Dementia and Imagination art groups, circular knitting, the natural environment, young carers and post diagnosis support to name a few. The event was coproduced and we eagerly await the report from Fran and Pam ( as North Wales works towards becoming a more dementia inclusive and informed society. 

Exhibition in Chesterfield for NHS group participants

The Derbyshire site recently hosted an exhibition in a busy community venue: The Saints Parish Centre of Chesterfield’s famous Crooked Spire.

Featuring a broad range of materials and techniques used in art sessions held in NHS settings, a series of 23 images were announced by vinyl cut letters on the wall: ‘Dementia and Imagination: making connections through contemporary art.’

Displayed over two rooms, the exhibition aimed to tell some of the stories and thoughts behind the artworks and included text alongside the images. Visitors were invited to complete a survey and comment on the content of what they saw. Many who visited expressed surprise: one visitor explained he felt “taken aback” by the quality of work on display and the exhibition was described by another as a “genuine eye opener; it just goes to show you what people can do.”

Pieces included a large, dynamic charcoal drawing which to some looked like a bison or a bull, to others, a stooped man trying to stand. A dowel sculpture, reflecting the artists’ engineering background, was coupled with a quote from a member of staff and research participant, who said: “It can be difficult to engage men in creative activity. The use of alternative materials and methods of assembly was a catalyst for conversation for men with industrial and farming backgrounds.” The artist, who was initially reluctant to have a go at art, agreed and said:

"I got a degree in mechanical engineering so I am interested in anything that is controlled."

The famous Crooked Spire in Chesterfield where the art group was held

Butterflies on orange acetate, made by one of the art groups, were on display in the exhibition

A popular image drawing a lot of admiration was a hanging installation of acetate, transparent orange butterflies, made collectively by a group of adults on an acute assessment ward and who were experiencing high levels of impairment.

Made by the same group, ‘landscapes in a tray’ were made using a variety of materials to reflect travels and favourite places. A delicate stitched textile work reflected the absorption and focus of the participants, hung next to a bold carved toaster, with the caption: 

“I forgot all my worries doing that. I laughed. And then I looked at it and thought, well, it’s not bad is it, I am not useless after all.” 

In the second room, a block print of a house was explained by the caption: “The artist was moved into permanent residential care that morning. She had no conscious memory of this, but when invited to draw letters, numbers and symbols, she chose instead to draw her house.” This story prompted an exhibition goer to consider that “even when people might not say much, there is obviously a lot still going on for them.”

The exhibition was visited by a number of clinical and senior NHS staff, including the Research and Development manager and the managers and matrons of the three hospitals where the sessions took place. The work was so well received that the Parish Centre asked to extend the exhibit. Having seen the pride and recognition on the faces of the research participants, artists and staff who visited, we were only too happy to oblige!

Celebrating the research: Dementia and Imagination at Clinical Effectiveness Day

Dementia and Imagination was recently featured in a Trust wide Clinical Effectiveness Day for Derbyshire Community Health Services. Featuring reports of research within the Trust, the day was impressively well attended by a range of clinical staff, managers, DCHS Chairman Prem Singh, and the Editor of the Nursing Times.

Derbyshire researcher Kat Taylor shared the vision of Dementia and Imagination with the audience, including some of the aims:

  • To systematically study and evidence the impact of arts based interventions
  • To explore how the arts exert their benefits
  •  To produce a handbook: ‘A practitioner's guide to Dementia & Imagination’

Background to the research and an outline of the study was provided to staff, including a summary of the evidence relating to dementia and the arts and why the topic and methods were chosen. An interactive session with R&D and clinical audit personnel for the Trust considered some of the tips and issues surrounding recruitment and data collection.

A selection of patient stories were shared and the presentation contained a number of images from the arts sessions throughout, as well as direct quotes from participants. 

Spirograph work in action, participant’s used homemade devices to make overlapping circles of colour

During a session creating Spirographs, a 78 year old man with Alzheimer's recalled huge chunks of his childhood. He then went home to dig out his old spirograph, and make a new one.

Following the success of the recent exhibition in Derbyshire, the presentation also illustrated some of the impact it had on the local community. Exhibition goers, (including both relatives of people and dementia, other members of the public and staff) frequently stated in their feedback that they had altered their perceptions of people with dementia as a result of viewing the artworks produced as part of the study.

Dementia and Imagination at School Conference

The Dementia and Imagination team presented three papers at this year’s School of Healthcare Sciences conference at Bangor University on the 11th November,

Dr Gill Windle gave an overview of research at the Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC), Wales, exploring the opportunities for future PhD and Masters students from the wealth of data available from research conducted by the Centre.

Dr Catrin Hedd Jones offered advice on study recruitment drawing on experiences from across the three research sites for Dementia and Imagination, and the challenges and opportunities encountered in care homes, the NHS and the community for conducting research.

Teri Howson talked about public engagement and impact and how Dementia and Imagination had connected with people through stands and workshops in some less than likely locations.

The team also shared a stand with Join Dementia Research (, an initiative to attract more people to take part in dementia research. The scheme is facilitated by Katherine Algar at DSDC Wales who is leading the roll out for the programme in Wales.

Dementia and Imagination and Join Dementia research stand at the School of Healthcare Sciences conference

News round up:

November has become a dedicated Arts and Health month. The Arts Health Canda Network pulled together some of the online social media action: (

Clive Parkinson from the Dementia and Imagination’s December blog ( had some daunting news on closures to Lancashire’s libraries and museum’s that will come into force next year, with an end to arts funding in March 2018. It’s not the only council experiencing such cuts, but raises questions for art in community spaces.

Finally some good news to finish: congratulations to Dementia and Imagination research associate Dr Anna Goulding of Newcastle University, winning an award at the Arts and Health Australia conference in November, For Arts and Health Education and Research. There’s a fantasticround-up of the conference online (

Our next newsletter….

Will be out in February!

Our first newsletter of 2016 comes to you in February with the first updates on the analysis so far and plans for up and coming activities in 2016.

Once again, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Dementia and Imagination research is jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council under the Connected Communities programme. 

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