Last week, I wrote about Julian West and his work with music and dementia. Hannah Zeilig, PhD, is an expert in culture, language, and dementia, who participated in and documented Julian’s program. When I interviewed Hannah, I was inspired by her perspective on arts and communications and wanted to share a few of her key ideas.
“The project showed us that you can converse in so many ways,” says Hannah. “The musicians and the dancer reminded us that we all can communicate without language.”
“One of the questions we’re asking in the UK is ‘How can the arts help with dementia? What can arts do that a game of dominoes cannot?’ ” Hannah says. “The arts help people become brave in how they connect with each other.”
The arts also transcend our dependence on achievement, identity, and memory.
“Being scared of dementia is the biggest barrier,” Hannah says. “In our language and our media, dementia is stigmatized and portrayed as catastrophic. One of the natural and common fears is summarized by this: ‘If I can’t remember where I live and my achievements, how do I know who I am?’
Julian’s work reminds us that we are all creative.
“People with dementia can be brimming with creativity and humor and able to make connections with each other,” Hannah says.
During one of Julian’s sessions, the musicians were playing and the dancer was cavorting around the circle. One resident, Alicia, walked right up, took the dancer’s hands and lead her in a waltz.
At the end of the dance, Alicia was glowing. She smiled and said, “We really just did something.”
And she was right.
Other gifts from this work in the arts:
- The residents communicated with more sounds and gestures.
- The staff saw the creative side of the residents.
- The creative atmosphere opened everyone up to alternate ways to connecting.
For more about Hannah and her work, visit: