Encouraged by qualitative research that shows art may be one of the ways to engage people living with dementia, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle are partnering in a study to explore ways to integrate this new knowledge into large care systems.
“There’s a growing interest in arts and health. There’s a lot that can be done to promote health through engagement, involvement and creative activity,” says Alison Phinney, professor and associate director, Graduate Programs in the School of Nursing at UBC.
UBC School of Nursing’s research is often conducted in partnership with community organizations where new knowledge can be applied in practice settings. While these partnerships lead to changes at ground level, scaling up and applying the learning in large health-care systems is a challenge, says Dr. Phinney.
Dr. Phinney, who conducts research on the activities of seniors – especially those living with dementia – in community settings, was part of a recent research project along with Prof. Landon Mackenzie from Emily Carr University of Art + Design and Michael Wilson, a senior facilities planner with Fraser Health.
Fifty-five paintings created by students from Emily Carr’s Audain School of Visual Arts were hung in a transitional care facility in Surrey, B.C., where people living with dementia were waiting to be transferred to a long-term care facility.
While the paintings – covering a gamut of subjects and styles from horses to flowers and abstract landscapes – were initially placed to act as markers to help dementia patients recognize where they were in the facility, they proved to be much more than that.
“The project enriched the environment and provided opportunities to engage people with dementia and hear from them what a difference the paintings made. What did they think about being in a facility that had beautiful art on the walls as opposed to one that has signage about safety precautions?” says Dr. Phinney.
The art triggered memories.
“There were conversations about things that mattered to them. They would say, ‘This reminds me of … ’ and then a beautiful rich story would spill out. There would have been no other opportunity in that health-care facility for that kind of story to be shared,” she notes.
It also prompted people to picture their future.
“People have imaginative capacity, and it created an opening for that,” adds Dr. Phinney. “These people were unable to live at home anymore and were waiting to go to another place of care.
Around them, conversations are happening with staff, with their family, with other facilities. These conversations we had around the art allowed people to have some kind of say about things that mattered to them. It was a way for people’s voices to be heard.”
The project was a good opportunity for students in UBC’s Master of Health Leadership and Policy (MHLP) in Seniors Care program to explore the unique health challenges of seniors’ care and gain a deeper understanding of the business operation of seniors’ care facilities.
“There is a growing recognition that current models for people living in seniors’ care are not meeting the needs of the aging population. We need to do things differently,” says Dr. Phinney.
The one-year MHLP in Seniors Care program, offered by the Faculty of Applied Science School of Nursing in collaboration with the Sauder School of Business, will contribute to that change as graduates apply their enhanced skills and learning to lead, design and deliver comprehensive care and services for seniors in community and institutional settings.
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