Winston Churchill Memorial Trust

As 2010 Fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Karin Diamond spent four weeks in Japan working with Dr Uchide and her art therapeutic person-centred dementia care. In learning about theatre and memory work, what she found first hand was the importance of intercultural exchange when it comes to best practice, and the benefits of holistic care that respects personhood, as is emerging in Japan. With a population of 2.3million older people with dementia, Japanese society in many ways foreshadows the aging populations of the west, rendering the innovation of local care practitioners a source of inspiration we cannot afford to ignore.

Dr. Uchide, chief director of 10 care homes and an experimental theatre company, has found success in progressing from the idea that group therapy should aim to restore or mitigate what the individual is thought to have lost to integrating people with dementia and the community through a respect of their personhood and belief in their ability to give as well as take. Through practices of sharing spaces, perspectives, and accumulating detailed resident histories barriers are broken down in Uchide's work. From employing integrated care that allows for the expression and reception of a full life to pedagogical techniques such as using a model of theatrical performance followed by workshops, as an interactive framework that exceeds the utility of a simple lecture format.

The techniques on display here are as much about enabling people with dementia as informing those who care for them. Pictured above, workshop exercises became the basis of intensive debate about effective communication and empathy, utilising a highly affective simulation working with ideas of elided individuality and homogeneous environments. Alongside conference organisation, Uchide’s theatre group (founded in 1994) involves staff and residents, and has reached audiences totalling 85000. Taking reciprocal compassion to heart, theatre productions are also conceived of as community events – the sharing of joy as well as the narration of the older people’s stories and traditional folk tales upon which they are based.

As Diamond found, part of the power of this framework is also in the audiences it engages, reaching out to residential homes, day centres, schools and in the highest level of multi-media production, the fine art theatre stage. Diamond is now in the process of reintroducing multi-media theatre practices and the performance-workshop model in Wales, running and submitting findings to conferences on social care.

In Dr Uchide’s words: “we have to learn from the stories they [the residents] tell us”

Diamond’s video report can be found here: