Objectives: The arts are increasingly recognised as important and beneficial activities for people living with dementia. However, there is little peer-reviewed published research exploring arts-based learning for dementia care staff. In response, this paper explores (a) how dementia care staff describe forms of communication in care settings, and (b) the impact on communication following four sessions of ‘Creative Conversations’, an arts-based intervention for skills development.
Method: Fourteen care homes received the intervention, delivered as 4 × 2 hour sessions. The intervention uses a range of activities (e.g. poetry, film, music, art making). Twenty–eight care staff were opportunistically sampled (mean age = 42.29), and provided pre-post qualitative data, obtained through interviews. Transcripts were analysed thematically.
Results: At baseline, the dominant ‘task-focussed’ nature of care work was described as a barrier to communication, challenging opportunities for developing meaningful relationships with residents. Post-intervention, three primary themes were identified regarding improving communication: (1) learning through the arts (secondary themes: simplicity and subtlety, innovation in communication, and strengthening the role of non-verbal communication), (2) Enhancing creative approaches to care (secondary themes: element of surprise, confidence to experiment and catalyst for communication) and (3) professional introspection (secondary themes: development of empathy, sharing knowledge and experiences and a new appreciation).
Conclusions: The intervention validated staff skills and confidence, enabling meaningful interactions that could be creative, ‘in the moment’, spontaneous and improvised. This arts-based intervention, which departs from formal education and fact-based learning may be particularly useful for the development of the dementia care workforce.