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Creativity can complement clinical interactions

Managing arts projects may be difficult for overstretched staff but simple principles can be used in different settings.
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Managing arts projects may be difficult for overstretched staff but simple principles can be used in different settings.

The benefits of arts interventions to improve the health and well-being of older people are well proven, with national guidance highlighting their use in outstanding services.

The creative ageing team at The Courtyard in Hereford has been running arts programmes for older people and those living with dementia for six years. These include intergenerational drama projects in nursing homes, dementia-friendly film screenings and international poetry exchanges in day centres. The connecting thread is the unique way creativity is used to communicate.

Creativity is not simply music, dancing or singing. Creativity is:

  • Choice . Creative activities give patients opportunities to choose whether they, for example, join in dancing. These small
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Managing arts projects may be difficult for overstretched staff but simple principles can be used in different settings.

garricks_men
Staff and patients can build relationships by sharing a creative experience Picture: Russell Lewis

The benefits of arts interventions to improve the health and well-being of older people are well proven, with national guidance highlighting their use in outstanding services.

The creative ageing team at The Courtyard in Hereford has been running arts programmes for older people and those living with dementia for six years. These include intergenerational drama projects in nursing homes, dementia-friendly film screenings and international poetry exchanges in day centres. The connecting thread is the unique way creativity is used to communicate.

Creativity is not simply music, dancing or singing. Creativity is:

  • Choice. Creative activities give patients opportunities to choose whether they, for example, join in dancing. These small moments can provide patients with some control over what they do each day.
  • Recognition. A poet will use the words of a dementia patient exactly as they are spoken; they are not ‘tidied up’, even if the words are confused. Reflecting how someone communicates without making any changes validates and celebrates that person’s experience.
  • Failure-free. A musician draws on the rhythms made by each group member, whether the smallest finger tap or an elaborate sequence, as the basis for a beat. There is no right or wrong way to join in, and patients are celebrated for what they can contribute, rather than what they can no longer do.  
  • Fun for staff and patients. Sharing a creative experience as equals allows staff to build relationships with patients quickly. Sharing a dance can be referred to later, either verbally – ‘I enjoyed our dance on Monday’ – or non-verbally, by humming the tune and repeating actions.
  • Simple. Sessions facilitated by an artist are effective, but their effect is multiplied when staff use the techniques with patients. Taking a few minutes to mirror a patient’s movements creates a connection.

Collaboration

Finding a way to introduce creativity into a health or social care setting can be challenging, particularly for those who are new to working with an artist. Here are a few tips:

  • Collaboration: the most successful arts projects are a three-way collaboration between patients, staff and the artist. Staff need to collaborate with the project as much as they can, by supporting patients to engage or by providing the artist with the right kind of space and tools.
  • Go with it: artists may approach their interactions with patients in unexpected ways, and respecting and trusting them is vital. Wait until the end of a session to ask the artist about techniques that surprise you.
  • Goals: be clear about what you are hoping to gain from the collaboration. Do you want to work hard to reach patients? Is learning about patients your priority? Good artists can adapt their practice to achieve goals.
  • Legacy: ask your artist to suggest simplified versions of activities that you can carry on with patients after the artist has left. Make sure you try them out so you can ask questions if something did not work.
  • Interaction, not intervention: one of the hardest aspects of arts interventions is to show their effects in traditional ways. By seeing creativity as a way to make person-centred communication easier, you will feel the benefits of this alternative approach as a complement to your clinical interactions. 

 

About the author

Penny_Allen

Penny Allen is adult participation manager at The Courtyard, Hereford
@creative_ageing

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