In our early work, the initial program design focused entirely on the participant. We thought about their experience with the art and the art-making activities, and how we could achieve the greatest success for the participant. For some this meant having someone accompany them who could offer a pair of hands for support where needed. While the experience of families and friends was considered, initially, this was secondary to our vision.
To our pleasant surprise, what we saw was families and friends sharing an experience together outside of their shared experience of dementia. This was the catalyst to begin focusing on social connections as well as engagement.
Artful Moments opened up new possibilities for family and friends by making it possible to see the creative side of their loved one. By working together, participants and the person accompanying them were able to spend time together to engage in activities they both enjoyed. This helped to strengthen the relationships between the participants and their friends or family members.
In a later experience, at the Gallery, a mother and daughter participated together. The daughter described her love of the program as her chance to have a ‘date’ with her mom which they both thoroughly enjoyed. She explained that this experience gave them an opportunity to connect in a meaningful way.
We always encourage our participants to attend with a friend or loved one, if they wish. We have couples, friends, parents with adult children, and other pairs who join us, along with some who choose to attend on their own. The friends or family who join in often get as much out of the program as the participant – they learn, share and are heard. They share the joy of their loved one, they talk and laugh together. They can also help to support participation, as a pair of hands, a voice, and a co-creator for activities and questions.
For programs that include friends and family, this is a relationship to embrace.
We will talk more about working with friends and family in Module 4: Understanding Approach.