Maria S. Parsons
Maria is committed to enabling people with dementia and their families to live positive and fulfilling lives throughout the duration of the illness. She trained and worked in social work and management before becoming a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Oxford Brookes University and later Head of the Degree programme in Social Work. Returning to the university after a sabbatical when she swapped her academic post with a senior practitioner in a community mental health team for older people, Maria was instrumental in setting up the Oxford Dementia Centre as a partnership between Oxford Brookes and Anchor Trust a leading UK care provider for older people. The ODC was one of the first of what became a national network of Dementia Services Development Centres that offered information, training, consultancy and research services to health and social services. Maria worked extensively with local councils, health trusts, voluntary organisations and the commercial sector on improving the quality of dementia care through organisational change and practice development before moving into specialist roles advising large care providers on raising standards of dementia care in care homes, often through using non pharmacological approaches.
Maria is now Director of the Creative Dementia Arts Network (CDAN) a hub for everyone interested in using creative arts to promote the health and well being for people with dementia. She is currently working with intergenerational groups of young people and older people with dementia, researching and developing new commissioning models for creative arts and evaluating creative arts projects. Maria is a founder member of Wisdem (www.wisdem.org) a global resource for people with dementia, families, professionals and care staff. She also supports the work of AGE UK Oxfordshire with whom she is working on a Baring funded project to develop a website for Participatory Arts and Older People. Maria is a member of the British Society of Gerontology and a member of the editorial advisory group of the Journal of Dementia Care, the UK’s leading journal in the field that has recently been launched in Australia with Professor Richard Fleming of Wollongong University as its editor
Lost in Time and Space: an Integrational Project in Dementia
Ten young people were brought together with 10 older people including 5 with dementia on a creative arts intergenerational project initiated by Modern Art Oxford (MAO). The group was tasked with producing a short film about the experience of living with dementia. Support was provided by professionals and volunteers and the group was given training in the use of specialist facilities and equipment. Dementia awareness training was given to the Project professionals and the young people who also had the opportunity to undertake a national qualification in the arts.
The process of making the film was envisaged as a purposeful, mutually beneficial activity to promote greater understanding and respect between generations,(Martin et al, 2010) as well as tackling the issues of marginalisation of both young and old and breaking down barriers to participation in the arts which have been shown to improve confidence and enhance creativity in people with dementia (Zeisel, 2010).Specific project outcomes for young people and older people were to
- Reduce stigma
- Enhance social cohesion
- Improve confidence
- Increase concentration
- Promote socialisation
- Increase mental stimulation
- Develop new skills and retrieve and use old skills
- Empower and increase self esteem
- Promote health and wellbeing
- Enable young people to submit work for a national award
Drawing on exhibitions by Kerry Tribe, Graham Sutherland and Shezad Dawood, the group also visited an anthropological museum, brought in and handled objects and keepsakes, made maps, photographed and interviewed each other and learnt film making skills.
The evaluation used a mixed methods design and data was collected through face to face interviews, focus groups and surveys, besides structured observation, photographs, video, diaries and notes.
Results show improvement across all measures for older people, particularly opportunities for social contact and self confidence. Project facilitators showed that they changed their views about dementia and its effects in the course of the project. Young people learnt film making skills and 5 students entered their work for the arts award. A high level of social cohesion in the group was reported and attitudes to dementia shifted from nihilistic to positive and person centred.