Innovative Methods for Engaging People Living with Dementia in Public Health Research

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Background: All people living with dementia have important perspectives and innovative research approaches can help us hear these views. Art can be described as expressing one’s self without the use of words. Art based research presents new opportunities for people with different communication skills to engage and express themselves without language. The purpose of the art-based focus groups was to explore tenants living with dementia’s perspectives of living in technology enriched supported accommodation through creative methods.

Methods: Visual arts were used as a research tool in the current study. Each scheme had six focus groups during which artwork was developed by participants to illustrate their experiences within technology enriched supported living. The art component was facilitated by an artist, while the researcher guided the discussions around the research aims, however, these roles naturally dovetailed. The art methods were adapted according to the participants desires and materials such as felting, painting, collage and clay were used. Participants guided the direction of the art, along with building skills, painting and drawing portrayals of their feelings, emotions and the sense of home. The data were gathered through note taking and the meaning of the final pieces of work gathered from tenants throughout the sessions.

Results: A total of sixty-four participants at various stages of their dementia journey took part in forty-eight art-based focus groups across eight housing schemes. The group sizes ranged from 10- 2, varying from week to week in each scheme. Seven males took part in the focus groups. The art could be considered an expression of their experiences without the need to formulate it into words.

Discussion: The findings supported the outcome of the one to one interviews undertaken with twenty two tenants living within the same housing schemes. Autonomy, choice, independence, a sense of belonging, privacy, relationships and being content were strong features of this work. Collaboration was a fundamental factor in this approach, between participants, the researchers and the artist.

Implications: This approach creates a major shift in knowledge production towards a co- produced, collaboratively generated outcome. The artwork went on exhibition across Belfast with an estimated audience of 10,000 people creating a new approach to disseminating research. An art workshop guide was developed from the findings.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 27 Nov 2019
EventJoint Public Health Conference - Titanic Conference Centre, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Duration: 27 Nov 2019 → …


ConferenceJoint Public Health Conference
Country/TerritoryNorthern Ireland
Period27/11/19 → …


  • Creative methods
  • Art based research
  • Dementia


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