TODAY Online - Using the arts to reach elderly with dementia

The Silver Arts 2015 Festival is a month-long event organised by the National Arts Council to engage and inspire seniors through the arts.

Seniors in Arts_NAC_800x500

Dementia patient and retired construction worker Lee Meng Teck never had the time or luxury to wield a camera — until this month, when the 75-year-old participated in a photography tour organised by the Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA) in conjunction with World Alzheimer’s Month and the Silver Arts Festival.

The Silver Arts 2015 Festival is a month-long event (see box) organised by the National Arts Council (NAC) to engage and inspire seniors through the arts.

Over the years, Alzheimer’s, a degenerative neurological disease, has affected Mr Lee’s memory and the way he communicates with others.

Said his daughter Ms Lee Kay Koon, 44, he “gets frustrated and throws tantrums, especially when he is bored. But he becomes a whole new person and is less moody when he is working on an art activity.”

Mr Lee is an example of how the use of creative arts can have a positive effect on the elderly who are suffering from dementia.

About one in 10 people aged 60 and above in Singapore has dementia, according to a new study led by the Institute of Mental Health. There is currently no cure for the disease.

Playwright and author Anne Basting, director of the Centre on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said the arts offer the elderly the opportunity to express themselves irrespective of their illnesses.

For those with dementia, that might be the key to drawing them back into social interaction, said Dr Basting, who was in town last week for the Arts in Eldercare seminar organised by NAC.

Dr Basting is the founder of TimeSlips, an improvisational storytelling programme. It uses art and imagination to help dementia patients connect with the people around them.

As the mental abilities of dementia patients decline, caregivers often find it a challenge to communicate with them. Using the TimeSlips approach, patients are shown photographs and asked to improvise stories with their imagination, instead of relying on their memories.

“With this technique, you are not asking the person with memory loss to remember; you are asking him to imagine. When you’re using your imagination, there are more opportunities for expression. With better communication, challenging behaviours (of dementia) can be reduced,” said Dr Basting.

In overseas nursing homes that have implemented the TimeSlips programme, it was observed that there were more frequent staff-resident and social interaction, and social engagement, found a 2009 study published online in The Gerontologist.

Staff who participated in the programme also had more positive views of the residents with dementia.

The concept of incorporating the arts into eldercare has gained traction here in recent years, said Ms Chua Ai Liang, director of Arts and Communities Department at NAC.

NAC partners organisations in the eldercare sector to help integrate the arts into their programmes. Ms Chua said the NAC has supported 30 eldercare centres, including those specialising in dementia care, such as ADA, through the WeCare Arts Fund since 2012.

Voluntary welfare organisations can tap into the fund to work with artists to develop arts workshops.

Beyond funding, NAC also develops resources and training courses for artists, and social and healthcare practitioners to equip them with the necessary skills to facilitate arts programmes.

At Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s (KTPH) specialised inpatient dementia unit, music therapy sessions run almost daily, while music and movement sessions are conducted twice weekly.

Its staff also incorporates materials from the NAC Arts Toolkits into its weekly patient activity programmes. The arts-based toolkits are developed by NAC to provide project ideas for community organisations or volunteers to conduct basic arts activities independently.

“Our research found that creative music therapy reduces agitation, and improves patients’ mood and engagement, even for those with dementia and acute medical problems in the hospital ward,” said Dr Philip Yap, senior consultant at the Department of Geriatric Medicine and clinical director of Geriatric Centre at KTPH.

The KTPH team also runs dementia enrichment programmes for outpatients, such as drama therapy and Chinese painting classes.

Dr Yap said the artistic therapies are conducted by trained therapists and staff who tailor the sessions to each patient’s interests and needs.

He added that the capacity to appreciate beauty remains in people with dementia.

“I think artistic therapies help to improve the well-being and quality of life in our seniors. If incorporated as a structured activity in the patients’ daily routines, it can provide meaningful and purposeful engagement. They can be used as a means to connect with the patient, at whatever stage of their disease,” said Dr Yap.

Dr Bastings believes the use of the arts should be made a standard practice in eldercare as an effective communication tool.

“Staff and caregivers should learn creative engagement as a means of communication, and to enliven and add meaning to the lives of the elderly. Without communication, they’ll be living in a dead zone where everything is bleak and isolate,” she said.

Source: TODAY Online

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