My PhD is about trying to understand experiences of heightened wellbeing or optimal functioning in persons with dementia.
Whilst 99% of what we read and hear about dementia focuses on loss, deterioration and distress, we know that there are times when individuals have very positive experiences. These can occur in the context of creative or physical activities, or during interaction with others.
For example, in the process of doing some writing work with John, one woman with dementia said: I’m tired but I don’t want to stop because I’m thriving! A woman engaged in watercolour painting (as part of the Memories in the Making Project) said:
I don’t know why so many things are so hard now and this is so easy!
The following quotation comes from Annie, a woman with dementia playing a musical instrument, and from an article by musician Maria Mullan: Playing this instrument it really responds to me. I feel I fit in so beautifully. I feel I’m being drawn into another world. It’s not just playing, there’s part of yourself in that.
This example comes from Lesley Benham and describes two women engaged a creative project:
Neither required much guidance as they became absorbed in the challenge. They were totally occupied with the task, showing increased concentration and improved communication skills throughout the sessions. Noticeably, word finding and fluency seemed to improve as they were under no direct pressure to converse or give opinions. Conversation was spontaneous and humour flowed.
What is happening when this kind of thing occurs? What is it like for the individual with dementia? What do these experiences mean to the person and those around them? What are the implications for how we support people in living with dementia?
As far as I know, this subject has not been investigated before, and I believe that it is crucial that we learn more about this other side of dementia. Read more about my reasons for doing this PhD here.
One of the questions I have concerns the relevance of the subject of flow to optimal experiences in persons with dementia. You can find out more about this here.
If you would like to keep track of this big project, please follow my blog Felt Experience.
And - of course - please do get in touch if you feel you could help in any way!