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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We are enabled by design: How designing for the minority can benefit the majority

Enabled By Design Logo[tweetmeme]A couple of weeks ago I attended a very interesting event called “We are Enabled by Design” at the Design Museum in London, organised by Enabled by Design. (Check out the excellent summary of the event by my colleagues at City Interaction Lab Blog.)

Enabled by Design was inspired by co-founder Denise Stephens’ experiences following her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2003. Having suffered a series of disabling relapses and hospital admissions, Denise was assessed by an Occupational Therapist (OT) and given a range of assistive equipment to help her to be as independent as possible. Although this equipment made a huge difference to her life, she became frustrated as her home started to look more and more like a hospital.

The inspiring thing about Denise is that she didn’t just accept that this is the way it is, she went out and did something about it. Denise and her co-founder, Dominic Campbell, have been working hard to spread the word about Enabled by Design and get people involved to share their views and experiences of assistive equipment, and to bring them together with designers to work together on new products and ideas. I wish more people would take such brilliant initiative, just imagine what could be done.

“We are Enabled by Design” was a one day event, looking to reframe the ageing and disability debate by focusing on Design for All. They believe the world is made up of people who have a range of abilities, with each person having their own personal strengths and qualities. Design for All focus on meeting the needs of as many people as possible, to make either a product or service accessible.

Besides being interesting and informative, I discovered a lot about my own misconceptions of disability. The key thing that I took away from this event is the creativity a lot of people with disabilities displayed in the way they adapt to a world often designed for the able bodied. The adaptations on display were fascinating, and some were very creative.

Another thing that stuck with me was innovation thought leader and evangelist Charles Leadbeater‘s point on the inherent risk of having things done to you when having things done for you. And the importance of thinking of with solutions to get for solutions done. For me and quite a few of the people I work with, the notion of creating with people is and has been an important part of what we do, but the realisation for me here, was how easily something you do for someone, becomes something you do to someone. It’s an important distinction, and one that is relevant in many situations, not just when working with people with disabilities.

I wonder if the buzz surrounding Open Innovation will enable more participation and inclusion in developing new products and services going forward…

What do you think?

Author: Kristine Pitts