With an arts and occupational therapy background, Carrie is a pioneer in creating environments that heal.
Imagine that on leaving the Northcott tonight, you are not going home, but are told you must get into this ambulance and are going to hospital. You feel things have been sliding recently, but you remember senses and experiences from 50 years ago. Yet the eyes of the people with you are glazing over.
Why do we not face up to dementia? Because it means facing our own vulnerability. There is no cure, but can we still do something for people with dementia? All of us have a need to love and be loved. Can we strengthen people’s sense of belonging? Create a sense of connection to place, people, each other? We need to shift the focus from what people can’t do, onto what they can do and their strengths.
How? Environment, senses and arts together can be transformative. Going for a walk together, having a coffee in a cafe. “Look,” says Peter, “it’s beautiful, I’m alive.” So design of the physical environmental of care centres is really important. Good lighting, colour, artwork to aid way-finding, familiar domestic-scale rooms, access to outdoors, a variety of places offering choice.
Even in advanced dementia, the emotional and creative parts of the brain remain intact. This gives a way in – the freedom to imagine instead of the need to remember.
The healing environment is dynamic and engaging, not passive – creating paintings together with artists, encouraging connections with remembered landscapes, sparking connections through everyday objects. Through showing Mary paint charts, matching the colours with her brightly-coloured clothes, she moved from “I’m frightened” to singing nursery rhymes, and speaking: “have you any colours today?”.
Let’s bring together carers, architects, artists, gardeners, children (and lots of others I couldn’t type fast enough to capture) and in a spirit of kindness and collaboration, create new spaces and experiences which meet people’s emotional needs and bring joy.
Most importantly, we need to listen to people with an open heart, and live our way with them into the answer, and hope that when our time comes, someone will listen to us.
Alzheimer’s Society : About dementia
King’s Fund Enhancing the Healing Environment programme