We are all creative. This does not and should not stop because we are living with dementia. In fact, it might become even more important. Being creative – however we go about it – involves looking at things in new ways, building on ideas to make better ideas, recognising similarities or differences and taking advantage of the unexpected.
Recent reports have highlighted the role that the arts can play in improving quality of life and care for those with dementia. This can include the promotion of choice and control, independence, lifelong learning, emotional stimulation and sensory pleasure – as well as creativity.
Creative activities can be a powerful tool in ‘unlocking’ the ability of people with dementia to express themselves and enabling them to tell their stories. An activity can be anything from eating lunch or taking a bath to interacting socially with others. By taking a creative approach, activities can be transformed from the mundane to something more stimulating. Lunch might become a picnic; residents can be involved in preparing a meal or encouraged to dress up to eat it; a walk in the garden might involve the collection of autumn leaves to make a mobile.
Working creatively is central to the theory of person-centred care. Many of those who work with people with dementia will have their own raft of personal and creative resources they use everyday and the benefits of working creatively apply equally to staff as to those with dementia. As an approach, it places the feelings and connections of the individual at the heart of everything. It values communication and interaction and helps to support a sense of personal identity and to encourage autonomy and agency.
In addition, the presence of well-thought out artworks in a residential setting can inspire, stimulate and improve the quality of life of those who live there and play a role in encouraging interaction with other residents and staff. Staff working creatively with residents with dementia perceive the benefits of the approach in terms of how it enables residents to retain skills, how it provides distraction and relaxation, how it gives a sense of satisfaction and enables individuals to feel they are making a useful contribution and how it encourages them to make choices.