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Art and dementia care I

June 10, 2007

The reason why it isn’t such a big leap from drawing to dementia care is that art is an encounter. It doesn’t matter if the encounter happens on the page or between people.

A meeting between people is relationship and relationship is the basis of care. Without it, certainly in dementia care, there is only custodial maintenance of a physical body- feeding, cleaning,clothing, exercising, etc. (Jitka M. Zgola, Care that Works). Peoples’ emotional, spiritual and social needs have to met as well. The arts can provide ways to do this.

Because dementia is such a complex and unpredictable condition, people working in the healthcare system resort to protocols to give them security in dealing with the affected person.  But in my experience, the minute I say, ‘I know’, or, ‘He always does that, it doesn’t mean anything’, I have shut off a vital source of new information.
So starting from ,’I don’t know’, just like with drawing, is the most creative and ultimately caring stance.

I think artists learn early on to be comfortable with uncertainty and even with chaos. Every book, painting or sculpture goes through a period where it is unresolved and you have to sit with that discomfort until the next step reveals itself. If you are truly exploring new territory with your work, you will have to continually take risks.
The same is true in dementia care; a person is a living, changing entity, so every moment is new territory. And discoveries are constantly being made.

Artists are used to seeing familiar things in a new light. So when someone who has lost a lot of their vocabulary starts to use other words, I appreciate their courage and inventiveness in finding new ways to communicate. I can often sense the poetic or symbolic meaning behind the words. Families say their loved one is speaking nonsense, but I always go from the assumption that every gesture and word has a meaning and it is my responsibility to interpret it.

continued in part II

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One Response to “Art and dementia care I”


  1. “I think artists learn early on to be comfortable with uncertainty and even with chaos. Every book, painting or sculpture goes through a period where it is unresolved and you have to sit with that discomfort until the next step reveals itself. If you are truly exploring new territory with your work, you will have to continually take risks.”

    — I love this. You are absolutely right; art has taught me to be far more comfortable with uncertainty, and I am working on the chaos part.


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