Bringing creative activities to those living with dementia, as well as the staff and carers supporting them
Supporting clinicians to develop research skills that deliver better patient care
Charlotte Allan is a clinician who was supported by Newcastle BRC funding to be able to incorporate research into her clinical role as a Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist, from 2017 to 2019. She used this support to pursue an interest in creating a stronger connection between academic and clinical services, including making a successful application to the Health Foundation for an Innovation for Improvement Grant to support a project to develop a new, innovative partnership between the NHS Newcastle Memory Assessment and Management Service (MAMS) and a local creative ageing charity, Equal Arts.
The project saw the development of three ‘Creative Age’ groups for patients and care-givers at MAMS. Held over a 12-month period, each eight-week group was co-lead by professional artists and clinical staff, with activities themed around: creative writing, cyanotype print-making, working with clay, and glass-work. Simultaneously, memory clinic staff were offered the chance to take part in six creative sessions, using activities that mirrored the patient groups.
“My background in research, and the time available through my BRC funded sessions was a great help in successfully applying for a Health Foundation Innovation for Improvement Grant. Their support over the past year has made a real difference to our service – for staff, patients and care-givers. The involvement of patients and care-givers and their willingness to be part of our evaluation has helped us to communicate to others the value of our work, and to sustain it in our service.”, Charlotte Allan, NIHR Newcastle-supported Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist, Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust
This creative intervention meant that patients and care-givers came to realise or accept that living with dementia can be a positive experience, and a time for growth and renewal. Participants had pride in their creations and this led to an increased sense of well-being and confidence. They were observed to look more relaxed, to smile and laugh. They developed peer-peer connections and this reduced loneliness and isolation.
“I felt relaxed, involved and happy” (patient feedback)
“It was a pivotal moment in his dementia journey and helped him accept his diagnosis, and realise there is life after diagnosis.” (carer feedback)
The sessions which were held for MAMS staff were filled with laughter, fun and enjoyment, leading to feelings of optimism and hope, strengthening the relationships between colleagues. Staff felt the experience added value to their professional lives by giving them the space to reflect on ways of improving communication and engagement with their patients. The sessions increased wellbeing through creating a sense of autonomy, belonging and competence, and encouraging joy at work.
“I feel as if I know people [in the team] better and can communicate on a different level” (staff feedback)
The intention is that Equal Arts will now provide training to clinicians and other staff to allow them to continue to offer creative well-being sessions to patients and their carers, creating a lasting legacy for this project.