Dr Jane Mullins Research assistant: health and wellbeing 1 June 2021

I love my job as Researcher at the Awen Institute as it means I can bring together older people; some who have dementia, researchers from many disciplines and people working within the creative industries with a view to exploring “real life” experiences and to find out our next big research ideas.

Recently, with help from Dr Sarah Campbell (Manchester Metropolitan University) whose PhD shares similar themes to my Suitcase of Memories (creative research methodologies, spaces, places, embodiment and the senses with people living with dementia), I set up two ideas labs to explore dementia and sensory spaces.

We had some very interesting people contribute including Dr Andy Woodhead (who won’t mind me saying, lives with Lewy Body dementia) and prior to his diagnosis was a lawyer and lecturer; Prof. Andrea Tales, Director of the Centre for Innovative Ageing and Neuropsychologist specialising in visual processing in dementia; Prof. John Keady, (Manchester University) who has worked tirelessly since the 80s in person centred dementia care research; Prof. Charles Musselwhite whose expertise includes older people and a sense of place; Prof. Nick Rich, Engineer by profession who has undertaken extensive research in hospital environments and safety. The list goes on, Dr Rebecka Fleetwood – Smith (Bristol University) whose PhD explores the significance of clothing and textiles for people living with dementia, Prof. Andrew Clark (University of Salford) whose research explores environments and neighbourhoods with people living with dementia (and specialises in creative research methodologies) and last but by certainly not least, Dr. Robyn Dowlen, (Centre for Cultural Value) whose PhD research explored improvised music as a sensory and embodied experience for people living with dementia.

As we all waxed lyrically in response to the questions:

  • What helps you feel a sense of wellbeing and calm in your home?
  • What sensory irritation do you have at home that is different from the people you live with?
  • What does home mean to you?

Many themes arose including:

  • Where is home?
  • A sense of security and safety, sanctuary
  • Familiarity
  • A place to be creative with hobbies, objects and physical things
  • Routine, a sense of continuity in life.

We learnt much about how Andy’s Lewy Body dementia affects his senses and all of this provides “food for thought” around the design of individuals’ homes and care settings. As we go on to explore the concept of home and how dementia may affect the senses, we will be looking to create research and adding to the existing knowledge base. Here we are planning research that may be conducted in peoples’ homes and in our brand new living lab.

In response to the successful ideas lab, the Awen Institute will now house the Dementia and Sensory Spaces Research Network. Our next ideas labs will go on to explore the research methodologies we need to adopt, as all our expertise realise the need for creative ways of undertaking research to assist and enable our co researchers living with dementia. We are also looking forward to welcoming Elizabeth Shaw from People Speak Up, a local social enterprise that connects communities through the arts and storytelling to help with wellbeing; Nick Ponsillo, from the Phillip Barker Centre for Creative Learning and Liz Posthelwaite, theatre maker and creative facilitator. I have since met and connected with Angela Gregory, an Occupational Therapist, Annie Bellamy, a Lecturer in Architectural Design and Dr Victoria Bates, Assoc. Prof. in Modern Medical History who all share professional and personal passions around dementia and sensory spaces.


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