The role of imagination in dementia care

Happy Elderly WomanImagination is often defined as an ability to envision something that is not present in reality – a fundamental part of creative processes that subsequently may lead to innovation. Author J.K. Rowling proposes that imagination could be understood in a broader sense, as a power to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared. Uniquely, imagination can allow us to learn and understand without having experienced. How can we employ this information resource in the best way?

It is important to choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless, in order to understand the world in its full spectrum of colours. My mind cross-referenced this thought with a quote from F.S. Fitzgerald’s famous novel The Great Gatsby that I often try to recall when facing a challenging behaviour of any sort:

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

In the world of dementia care, which is the application domain of my PhD research in creativity and play – one who cares for a person with impaired memory is often faced with strange and bizarre situations classified as challenging. I believe the key to resolutions in these situations is to reveal its causes with empathy, and I am building games to enable this kind of creative, imaginative understanding. The idea is to enable carer’s imagination to act like a detective, pick up the clues to gradually uncover the reasons that lie behind behaviours and emotions of an individual with dementia.

What could be the impact of such an application of imagination? Another quote from J.K. Rowling, I believe, reflects very well the issue of importance of understanding (not only in dementia care) that I am trying to address with my research:

Many people prefer never to exercise their imagination at all and never wonder how it would have been to be other than how they are. They can close their minds and hearts to any sufferings that do not touch them personally. They can refuse to know. Choosing to live in such narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia… Willfully unimaginative see more monsters, they are often more afraid.

We are therefore going to play hard-to-forget at my talk at ICLCity 2012, organised by Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice, taking place at City in June. Looking forward to seeing you there.

Also, I would like to encourage you to put your imagination into action today. Many who suffer from dementia live in care homes. Join the Big Care Home Conversation brainstorming campaign, that is tackling the question: What makes life good in care homes now, what could make them better – and how might we get there?


How Can Businesses and Universities Solve Business Problems More Effectively?

People collaborating around a tableThere are ways that businesses and universities communicate and collaborate.  Yet, perhaps we should ask ourselves:

  • Are our current approaches fit for the future?
  • Will they meet the needs of 21st century businesses?
  • How can we innovate the business-university interfaces to solve the challenges that entrepreneurs face?

New approaches would help universities and businesses.

Universities would be able to make their research, consultancy and enterprise activities more useful to today’s businesses. Universities could reinvent themselves and develop totally new capabilities that will help drive business growth.

Businesses would benefit from knowing they could turn to academics who understand their needs and offer services that will help solve the challenges they face. Improved collaborations between business and universities could improve revenues, reduce costs, add new capabilities to existing companies or create more start ups.

We’d really like to know your ideas:

How can businesses and universities solve business problems more effectively ?

Join our workshop at the Digital Shoreditch Festival on Tuesday 21st May to innovate how businesses and universities can work together to solve businesses challenges. It will be an enjoyable, interactive experience and you’ll be helping universities and businesses achieve more. There’s more information here.

If you can’t wait to tell us your ideas, or if you can’t join us in London on the 21st, you can join in the discussion online by posting a reply. We’d like to know your ideas.

 Dr Sara Jones, Dr Stephen Clulow

Exploring analogies: living abroad, maths and Sherlock Holmes

Through the Looking Glass
Through the Looking Glass

Recently, with much delight, I’ve been watching BBC’s Sherlock television series (2010) that brought us a contemporary view of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s universe. Having grown up with my eyes glued to the original books and Jeremy Brett portraying the famous detective (1984) – I was initially quite suspicious of the modern interpretation. Old trick, one would say, to re-wrap the family heirloom, cherished on the shelf for ages, into a shiny new paper – and call it innovation. In this case, it worked, at least for me. I was impressed and amused. All the well-known features, so dear to my heart, were translated and empowered in a parallel world of 21st-century London with taste, elegance and surprise vignettes. Mobile phones and Internet technologies instead of letters, nicotine patches instead of a pipe, blogging instead of writing for newspapers… just to illustrate.

Then I thought more about the smart use of analogy and my relationship with this creativity technique.

I realized that I was unknowingly exposed to it from a very early age. Namely, maths was always my favorite subject in school because I almost never needed to learn anything by heart (I guess that’s why I later went on to study it at university). For most of my childhood, I spent Saturdays in classes for gifted children, solving mathematical puzzles, and I loved it. All I had to do is to recognize categories of problems and apply a trick-of-the-trade I learned fighting similar quests. The battle was never the same, but I could win it if I recognized the enemy’s disguise, by reflecting on my previous fighting history.

Another factor that I believe contributed greatly to my love of analogy is the experience of living abroad. I come from Serbia, but have spent a certain amount of time living in Austria, Germany, Italy and now, England. My experience tells me that when one moves abroad, as an isolated entity, one has to intensely search for analogical items to fulfil this universe that is new and unknown. Trains: Zeleznice Srbije – OBB – DeutscheBahn – Trenitalia – National Railways. Television: RTS – ORF – ZDF – RAI – BBC. Sounds uneventful, but it is actually a challenge to simultaneously find equivalents of grocery items, favourite cafes, home, transport… and everything else that has been making the previous world. Now imagine doing that in a country whose language you don’t speak. That’s the advanced level of the game.

I would say that when one is once used to do mappings all the time, it is easier to switch domains and even go out and invent parallel worlds, in case of a creative need. I read somewhere, “logic will get you from A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere”.

The fun part is when all the equivalents are found, and you start to discover in that parallel world categories of things and interactions that are completely unknown to you, but yet relevant. The ones that lack a mapping, and bring the glitter in. “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards“, says Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’.

Creative Spaces

Sarah Greenwood’s desk – picture taken at the University of the Arts, London. Sarah was Production Designer on the Sherlock Holmes film.

I’ve been reflecting on the last couple of years and my journey through the MICL.  I’ve come to realise that the space in which I work has quite an impact on my creativity and productiveness.  This in turn has an effect on how I feel.

Whilst tussling with essays, reading academic books and organising my thoughts, I’ve moved around the house.  I may start off in my home office, move through to the kitchen table and end up in the lounge on a comfy sofa.  At first, I discipline myself with structure, then I make a coffee and create, then I kick back and review what I’ve written with a cup of tea.  Each seems to take place in a different space.

The climate around these spaces is interesting too.  People, noise, the weather outside and the decor and furnishings in the room all impact on my work.

I’ve also come to realise that I can’t focus in a mess!  Tidying up the workspace prior to starting is crucial.

Here are a few workspaces to look at.  What space suits you?

Alison also writes her own blog – check it out here.