Improving well-being and community connectivity for people with dementia through community based arts interventions

Lead Research Organisation: Bangor University
Department Name: Inst of Medical & Social Care Research


Although people are living longer than ever before, the number of people with dementia is increasing, and 1 in 5 people over 80 will have dementia by 2021. People with dementia and their families often become disconnected from society through the stigmatizing effect dementia has on taking part in everyday activities. Added to this, the current economic climate has meant reductions in many services, and there is often a lack of meaningful activity available to this population.
Many people with dementia wish to remain within their communities, in the home of their choice, near their family, carers and friends, with the support of health and social care services. Considering this alongside the challenge of demographic change and the impact of dementia, communities and their resources have considerable potential. To explore this potential, the large project will determine how dementia supportive communities can be created through innovative community based arts interventions.

Research to date, although limited, suggests a number of potential benefits of arts participation to the quality of life, health and well-being of people with dementia. This project wishes to build on this to address a new area, which will maximise the involvement of, and potential benefit to communities. It will look at how participation in community arts interventions can increase well-being and connectedness between the dementia community and wider society. It will also examine another new area, to further understand the 'active ingredients' that create the connection between arts participation and good outcomes.
To realise the aims, the research will be set within four areas of the UK. These consist of ethnically and geographically diverse communities to contextualise the research, with both distinct and common characteristics such as ex-heavy industry, urban and rural contrasts, ex-mining communities, bilingualism. The research will build on existing relationships and develop new ones with community and policy partners, such as arts organisations, museums, galleries, health and social care practitioners, charities and local government, to mobilise existing community arts resources, implement into practice and increase connections between partners. This will ensure full engagement and maximum benefit and impact. It will also contribute towards building sustainability.

The processes and outcomes of the research will be assessed using a range of quantitative and qualitative approaches, and will use art and film, both as a tool for analysis and for visual, creative representations of the results. This will highlight how and why the arts and connectivity might 'work' and will inform further research, policy and practice. Through development of outreach aspects of the intervention, it will reach communities at risk of access deprivation and existing communities 'not served' by the arts and cultural resources. In aspiring to create dementia friendly communities, the research will facilitate change in societal attitudes and promote participation and inclusion. The contribution to the creation of dementia supportive communities will build community well-being.

Planned Impact

The research will make a demonstrable contribution to research, society, policy, practice and the economy. Through full engagement it will enable central and local government, statutory and voluntary sector, health and social care providers, and community arts and cultural venues to contribute towards increasing well-being and connectivity between the dementia community and wider society, through the potentially transformative effect of participation in community arts. Specifically:
Impact through informing government policy: The research will be of direct relevance to a number of policy objectives. It will contribute to the ambitions for Dementia Supportive Communities (WAG, 2011a) and changing awareness and understanding about dementia, enabling people to 'live well' (National Dementia Strategy, DoH). It will help deliver key policy actions such as maximising participation in the arts and sport, and improving the proportion of people participating in arts activities from under-represented groups (WAG, 2011b) and initiatives developed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Given that estimates of the total cost of dementia amount to £17.03 billion per year (Dementia UK, 2007), interventions such as the one proposed, that have the potential to moderate some of the negative impacts on quality and life and wellbeing, provide an opportunity for policy objectives to be realised.
Impact to the third sector and local authority policy and practice: The research will assist local authorities and the third sector with spending decisions, by providing evidence of the benefits to people with dementia, their carers, and the communities in which they live. This will be of direct relevance to local authority health, social care and well-being strategies. Creative discussions between the health and arts sectors will encourage the view that engagement with the arts can be seen as a valid part health care. Charitieswill be able to use findings for advocacy purposes.
Impact to practice: The research will be of direct benefit to art practitioners and arts organisations, galleries and museums practitioners, the medical profession (including academics, GPs, medical students and care staff) and carers. Arts practitioners/carers will benefit from training and guidance on how to use art to improve the lives of older people. Improved training for carers and arts practitioners will result in improved quality of provision, thus improving the quality of care. The research will identify ways to improve the effectiveness of existing community based arts programmes, and the development of new programmes. It will generate evidence of 'what works' providing information for organizational and operational change, enabling existing services to be improved for maximum benefit.
Impact to communities: A significant societal impact will be to improve quality of life, health and well-being by creating dementia supportive communities through the research activities. Individuals taking part will benefit through wider participation and reduced social isolation, enabling the development of social networks.
Impact through communication and dissemination: The research will draw on some of the principles of implementation science to develop a knowledge transfer and communication strategy, to identify organisations that will benefit, and in order to ensure all beneficiaries and stakeholders have opportunities for engagement with the research and dissemination of the key messages. Full engagement with community partners and research users will ensure the research is useful and valid in a 'real world' context. In turn, this will improve the quality and subsequent implementation and sustainability of community arts interventions, through a greater understanding of the physical and psychosocial barriers to engagement and an increased understanding of the benefits of engagement with the arts.


10 25 50
Description The development grant enabled collaboration and a systematic approach to identifying research gaps.
Exploitation Route The development grant led to the subseqent funding of Dementia and Imagination, which is addressing the identified research gaps.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description This was a development grant, which supported R&D activity that lead to securing of £1.2m research funding.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Other
Description AHRC Connected Communities for Health and Wellbeing
Amount £1,200,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/K00333X/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2013 
End 08/2016
Title Communication Strategy 
Description Our non-HEI partner, Age Watch, developed a Communication Strategy to identify relevant stakeholders. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This tool enables a focussed approach towards dissementation of key messages.