Dementia care research becomes basis for touring play

A play based on an academic study of the stresses and satisfactions of care work in dementia wards has now set off on a six-venue tour

March 1, 2015

Source: Alan Fletcher

For a year and a half, Justine Schneider, professor of mental health and social care at the University of Nottingham, oversaw three researchers who carried out participant observation while working half-time in dementia wards. The results were published as Challenging Care: the role and experience of health care assistants in dementia wards in 2010.

Along with in-depth interviews, says Professor Schneider, the “team ethnography” produced 600,000 words of field notes on “what the researchers observed, what they felt and what they reflected on what they observed”. These revealed, for example, the ways that care assistants “felt marginalised by the clinical staff” and their often “tricky relationships with visiting family members” who complained about concerns they did not have the power to address.

Once they had analysed the data, continued Professor Schneider, they realised that they “wanted to share the vivid field notes more widely” – and set out to find a suitable playwright. The first person to put herself forward was Tanya Myers, co-artistic director of the Meeting Ground Theatre Company.

The Challenging Care report included a rich range of material about carers, but for ethical reasons said little about the people with dementia themselves, so Ms Myers set out to “source patients’ stories independently”. She also became increasingly interested in “the whole issue of person-centred care”, given that “there are as many forms of dementia as people with dementia”.

Although the initial plan was to produce a play for the general public, recalls Professor Schneider, workshop performances of Inside Out of Mind in 2011 made clear its “potential as a learning experience for people working in dementia wards. They don’t get a lot of on-the-job training and a medium like theatre seemed likely to prove more accessible than a conventional classroom.”

The first proper run of Inside Out of Mind, at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre in 2013, was therefore partly funded by local health trusts who bought up tickets for their care assistants.

“A lot of the audience had never been to the theatre before,” notes Ms Myers. “The demonised underpaid workers were delighted to see their experiences reflected in a play that doesn’t demonise or blame even though it explores issues of care. Senior staff recognised that it is valuable to put on stage care which is less than ideal as a basis for discussion.” 

Given that around 225,000 people in the UK develop dementia every year, stresses Ms Myers, “the issue is not going to go away – we need to see what is positive about dementia and not just push them into the shadows”.

But isn’t dementia a rather depressing topic for most people’s idea of an entertaining night out?

Not at all, replied Ms Myers, her play is actually very funny, not least because one of the carers said to her: “If you don’t give us permission to laugh, I’ll wring your neck. Laughter is one of our essential survival strategies.”

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Post-doctoral Research Associate in Chemistry

University Of Western Australia

PACE Data Support Officer

Macquarie University - Sydney Australia

Associate Lecturer in Nursing

Central Queensland University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham