Puppetry in Dementia Care: Connecting Through Creativity and Joy

9 May, 2013 by

Puppetry in Dementia Care: Connecting Through Creativity and Joy

Puppetry in Dementia Care: Chris (@PoshratKing on twitter) recently sent us a link to an article about how Creativity In Care use creativity in their programs for care homes.








Puppetry in Dementia Care: Connecting Through Creativity and Joy

KMCreativityInCareLogoSquareSEPT2012smallAccording to their blog post, the Creativity In Care (CIC) process has developed over several years, nourished by person-centred and humanistic theories (Maslow, Rogers, Erickson, Kitwood). The combination of person-centred approaches with creativity has positive and powerful effects. By using their process in a care environment, CIC report an increase in emotional well-being, connection and enjoyment which they say has lasting influence and value.


The CIC Process In Their Own Words

The CIC website describes their process and it’s impact as follows:

The work is always about making connection with or without words. We do not know how or when this might happen. Every session begins with permissions to do what feels best. Gradually, through the creative practice we facilitate connection between staff and family carers and the people they support. This often extends to be between the general public and people whose voices have not been heard.

Every project follows creative process. We plant seeds of possibility and incubate them inside ourselves and outside ourselves. Sometimes we must wait, but we wait with trust, even though we cannot know what the creative seeds will look like when they grow.

People ask us to list the steps we take; to describe exactly what we do; to explain how people travel from places of despair, disconnection or loss of confidence, – to well being, laughter and resilience.

There is no set way. The process has an overall pattern… a certain kind of music … but the steps are different every time. Questions guide us, such as:

  • Who is this person right now?
  • What makes him or her feel safe?
  • What is their focus?
  • What gets in the way of everyone involved being able to share joy and laughter right now?
  • How much hope does this person have, that anything can be positivey different?
  • What does ‘positively different’ mean for all the people involved?

We explore answers through creative, artistic, and reflective activities to discover what has meaning for each person. Maybe we use mini-performances and short narratives: Where in the world have my feet walked? What have my eyes seen? We may sing about hands and hearts. We feel our faces and perform alchemy by converting 3D (face) into 2D (drawing) and back into 3D (sculpture)

We express who we are, how we feel, or what we think through this creative process. There is much laughter. The art has therapeutic value, such as enjoyment, relief, relaxation, pride, connection, beauty, expression…But we do not call this art therapy.

We are not analyzing everything. We are simply admiring the work, and loving the person. Relationships build in a different way, because perspectives about individuals change or grow.

A unique feature of our process is enabling people to make puppets of themselves. This happens over several weeks, using for example narrative work, story-boxes, song, demonstration and sometimes lessons in anatomy. The creative process provides a shelter, so people can choose when they want to engage, and how.

Interaction usually happens through the puppet or artwork…always through the creative. We are all human. We can recognise ourselves in each other.

The puppet represents the ‘I am’, ‘spirit’ or ‘beingness’ of each individual. Over the past ten years we have seen many stunningly beautiful and magnificently eccentric puppets by participants. The puppets communicate far beyond words, – and so we connect with humour and enjoyment, even in the midst of the most serious of matters. We do not always know the story, but we can still connect.

A quiet man becomes more confident through the humorous tall tales his puppet tells. A dying lady laughs at the diva dancing on her bed. A son and mother reconnect through an animal puppet. A daughter realizes her mother does love her after all through their puppets. A young man expresses feelings of depression and amazing hope through two hand puppets. An older man’s skeleton-like puppet ‘can still sing like Elvis’. A woman tells her story of survival as her puppets dance in celebration. And a family takes the puppet of their loved one to his funeral.

The starkness, humour, and magic of puppetry enable people to make connections with or without words, right through to end of life care. Anything that uses the imagination… stories, playfulness, arts, visualization, song writing, performance, etc has huge ability to improve and transform lives.

Sometimes people tell us they are not creative, not interested in ‘arts and crafts’, and that they are standing a million miles away from anything enjoyable. Such places are raw and tough for people to be living in. We only ask that they consider giving the process a chance. But it is a big ask.

We cannot even tell them what the process will be like! But those who take the risk tell us the journey is awesome and uplifting. They are describing themselves perfectly!

Puppetry In Dementia Care Book

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 10.28.01 AMA book about the work by K Marshall is being published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in July 2013

Puppetry in Dementia Care: Connecting through Creativity and Joy; Jessica Kingsley Publisher; London  2013.

Book Description

Even in later stages of the disease, when memory, words and relationships are affected, it is possible for people with dementia to express emotions, imagination, humour, sensitivities and personal preferences. This book demonstrates ways in which puppetry and associated art forms such as singing and story-telling can be used in a person-centred way to create opportunities for these human responses to emerge. The author describes different scenarios in which puppetry can help facilitate connections, including in response to changes in relationships, communicating when words fail and in times of distress or conflict. She explains how puppets can be used to stimulate memories, celebrate life achievements and promote self-esteem and confidence, as well as with those nearing the end of life as part of palliative care. Strategies for introducing puppetry and other forms of creative stimulation into daily care are suggested, and real examples are used to illustrate how creativity may benefit the person with dementia beyond the immediate session. Step-by-step instructions and templates for making a variety of puppets are also included. This thought-provoking book will be a source of inspiration and practical ideas for care staff and activity coordinators, creative arts therapists, occupational therapists, puppeteers and other artists working in care settings, as well as relatives of people with dementia looking for new ways to connect with their loved ones.

About the Author

Karrie Marshall has a background in nursing and person-centred counselling. She managed a care home for people with profound and complex needs, and worked for ten years as a lecturer in health and social care at Inverness College. In 2011 she founded the social enterprise Creativity in Care (www.creativityincare.org), which promotes inclusive and joyful work in care settings and in the community for people living with dementia and people who use mental health and learning disability services. Karrie lives in Inverness, Scotland.

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