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?

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About Anja Sisarica
Since October 2011, Anja is studying towards a PhD in Software Systems Engineering at City University London and its Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice, supervised by Prof. Neil Maiden from School of Informatics, and Prof. Julienne Meyer from School of Health Sciences. She is exploring links between creativity, serious games and dementia care, supported by MIRROR project.

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