I’ve been asked that question a few times on my travels and at home, I’m still trying to formulate a short punchy reply other than ‘LOADS’.
From the older people, I learnt more of what we already know:- we need not be so afraid to show our emotions and we need to be acknowledged for who we really are, regardless of age or ability. When the woman I met in Victoria listened to the poem that she and local writer had crafted about a walk under the old Garry Oak trees, she clutched her abdomen, saying ‘I feel it here, I feel it here.’ During the Timeslips session, I sat next to a widower who introduced himself with a raw description of his grief but within the hour he was transformed into a laughing, energetic ‘story-teller’ contributing to the group story.
From the professionals I learnt to take risks, let my imagination fly, not to be held back in case something doesn’t work. There are so many new approaches that I can use in my own workshops, I learnt to work more with other art forms- creating an outcome that brings words together with paint, or music, or performance or installation. I learnt some more of the science and the philosophy behind the benefits of creative expression in dementia care that can demonstrate our sense of identity, which is what we all want, including those living with dementia
From the places I visited, I learnt that our environment shapes our view of the world, from the woman who was afraid to walk outside her house for fear of being attacked, to the man who built trails through forests still yearning to be amidst the trees, to the man who loved rocks because they don’t answer back. Everyone I spoke to had some sense of their identity being affected by the places they have strolled or lived or worked or raised a family.
From audience responses I learnt that art produced by older people can bring about social change, can be used to inform research, can make policy makers and service providers THINK about individuals. People’s responses to stories, paintings, poetry, plays, music created by older people with dementia is often very profound, giving deep insight into how creativity is a social and psychological need.