Arts and people with young onset dementia to be explored in new research

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A new research project co-run by University of Northampton (UON) will address the impact of diagnosis on the bonds between people with young onset dementia and their caregivers using creative approaches.

The study – in collaboration with lead partner the University of Derby – will research the impact of a series of arts in health workshops for people with younger onset dementia and their caregiver(s), with the aim of improving quality of life, family relationships and ability to manage a dementia diagnosis for participants.

Arts in health programmes focused on engagement through music, dance, and museums, are widely used to support people with dementia in later life and/or in care homes, but there has been little focus on using the arts for those under the age of 65 who live in the community.

Researchers will invite two groups of five pairs (a person diagnosed with younger onset dementia and their caregiver(s)) to attend 10-weekly arts-based workshops, with support provided by drama, dance and storytelling experts, and a volunteering dementia expert from Dementia UK.

The workshops will draw upon a range of activities, including drama, role-play, storytelling, sound and music making, movement and rhythm, to create images, scenes and stories.

The potential for these arts techniques to be used at home, between or after the workshops with the aid of a personalised toolkit, will also be explored by the project.

Dr Alison Ward, Associate Professor in Health Research at the University of Northampton, added: “I’m delighted that this important piece of research with the University of Derby is underway. When we think of dementia, we tend to picture older people and their carers and the impact dementia can have on them.

“But dementia can have equally devastating outcomes for younger people and those who care for them. We hope this important research will improve our understanding of the role art can play in supporting younger people diagnosed with dementia.”

Dr Clive Holmwood, Lead Investigator for the project and Associate Professor in the Discipline of Therapeutic Arts at the University of Derby, said:

“Co-investigator Dr Gemma Collard-Stokes and myself are really looking forward to working collaboratively with this important group of people and the University of Northampton on this arts-based research, which will meaningfully support the attachment between the carer and the person being cared for.

“Our hope is to take our findings from this initial project and continue to develop this research and toolkit to develop so it can have further national and international impact.”

The project will run for two years, completing in March 2024 and has been awarded £113,000 in funding by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).