The event, titled Arts for brain health: Social prescribing as peri-diagnostic practice for dementia, was part of the Arts 4 Dementia (A4D) Best Practice Conference that took place on 20-21 May 2021. Professor John Gallacher, director of DPUK, chaired the event and has since written a review that has now been published in The Lancet.
A4D is a charity that empowers people affected by dementia through artistic stimulation. Their latest campaign centres around social prescribing to arts-based groups and activities when patients are referred for diagnostic tests for a potential dementia – so even before someone is diagnosed with dementia.
Social prescribing is a way for health professionals like GPs to refer patients to local practical support services instead of relying on only medical prescriptions. It is based on the idea that a person’s health and wellbeing arises from a combination of social and environmental factors as well as medicine.
A4D's campaign is spearheaded by Jane Frere’s art piece D-IAGNOSIS! Arts to Preserve Wellbeing (pictured above), which shows two heads of the same person – one fearful of a potential dementia diagnosis, the other enjoying the arts as a positive distraction from the diagnostic process. In his review, Professor Gallacher described the piece as ‘a parable of intellectual development inspired by creative opportunity’.
The aim of prescribing arts is to help ease people’s journey through their dementia diagnosis, combat the potential shock, and introduce new opportunities to help them live well with dementia. The idea of arts for early-stage dementia is that course leaders are trained to understand each person’s condition and deliver workshops that provide cognitive stimulation through art, music and dance – rather than gentler arts that are helpful for moderate stages of dementia.
During the A4D event, a range of speakers – including top dementia researchers, people with dementia, creative experts, and the Arts4Dementia president, Veronica Franklin Gould – discussed together how best to achieve the goal of social prescribing to the arts at the onset of dementia symptoms.
Professor Gallacher said: ‘The take-home message from all stakeholders was that collaboration works. It enables the sharing of the best ideas to maximise benefit, whilst distributing risks to minimise failure. Varied patterns of partnership were presented, from global international initiatives through national networks, to community inspired “fun things to do” such as dancing, exercising and singing.’
He concluded: ‘In many ways the conference could be summarised as a celebration of life, which doesn’t have to wait for the licensing of a monoclonal antibody in order to begin.’