Culture Box: Remote and Digital Delivery of Arts and Creative Activities to Improve the Wellbeing of People with Dementia in Care Homes

Case Study

People living with dementia in care homes have been severely negatively impacted during the pandemic with those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups disproportionately affected. High rates of mortality, social isolation, loneliness and responsive behaviours (such as restlessness, agitation and wandering) increased as visits from loved ones, artists and creative practitioners were stopped. Culture Box responded to this through regular postal and digital deliveries of creative activities for use in dyads (a resident with dementia and a member of care staff).

Participatory Action Research was used to assess the impact of the project. This used a cycle of planning, delivery, evaluation and reflection.

The Culture Boxes included a range of physical and digital materials and activities. This included an illustrated series of trees from around the world with associated art activities such as colouring in, musical resources including links to BBC musical memories website, puppet-making, and musical instruments. The project collaborated with a variety of creative organisations including Entelechy Arts, Drawing Life, Paintings in Hospitals, Live Music Now, Spare Tyre Theatre and Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery.

Credit: Akim Toussaint Buck, ‘Hello Love’ (commissioned for Culture Box, 2020)

Culture Boxes provided stimulation and interest to care home residents during the pandemic, with visual arts, music and nature-based activities especially popular. Care staff felt supported and inspired by the project at a time of unprecedented challenge.

“It will be quite sad, won’t it, when it comes to an end because we look forward to them coming every month. We get excited when we are opening them, don’t we?”

The Culture Box materials stimulated meaningful discussion about hobbies, families, travel and other life events. Staff learnt more about residents because of these discussions.

“And it is like totally changing them and it brings them out of themselves a little bit, which is nice […] It is new, and I mean something that we learn, something we can learn new things all the time and so yeah, it is lovely, we are absolutely loving it actually.”

Digital poverty, lack of confidence in engaging with creative materials, and staff attrition were barriers to the success of the project that should be addressed to sustain similar projects in future.

Remote and digital delivery of creative activities can be used successfully used to reduce isolation, improve relationships, and enhance the quality of life for older people in care homes. Future projects should utilise remote and hybrid delivery to work with a diverse range of older people.

Researchers

Victoria Tischler
Chloe Asker
(University of Exeter)

Hannah Zeilig
(University of the Arts London)

Julian West
(Royal Academy of Music)

Mary O’Malley
(University of West London)