Putting on a show

From the spring 2015 issue of our Care and Cure research magazine, find out about a researcher who wrote and directed a play about people with dementia.

When Justine Schneider was faced with 600,000 words of notes from observations in dementia wards, she knew that normal academic publications wouldn't be enough.

Schneider, a professor of mental health and social care at University of Nottingham, had just completed a study in which three researchers in her team had spent up to a year observing dementia wards and following healthcare assistants at work.

Healthcare assistants, also known as nurses' aides, make up more than half of hands-on staff in the NHS. Despite their number, there has been little research into this group of staff.

Schneider's study aimed to explore the stresses, coping strategies and rewards of caring for people with advanced dementia:

'I didn't have any plans at the proposal stage to put out anything other than reports, journal articles and maybe conference talks. But the researchers were very gifted and had an excellent ear for dialogue. Their field notes were extremely detailed and they came across most vividly.

'As a social researcher I've already been aware of the potential of drama to show research findings - it is in the research methods literature, but I've never before had the opportunity to do it. Academic writing is seldom able to portray the full nature of human experience in the same way that the arts can achieve.'

Schneider contacted Tanya Myers of Meeting Ground Theatre Company to see what she might be able to do with all of their observations.

'She was very sympathetic towards the situation and had cared for her own mother-in-law with dementia.'

Myers wrote and directed a play, Inside out of mind, that featured many of the observations from Schneider's team. The play was initially performed to an audience of healthcare assistants and other health support workers, along with a workshop to discuss the issues that it raised. In total, over 1100 healthcare assistants attended the show and over 90 per cent of them said that the play positively affected their work with people with dementia. 'I have been working in dementia for some time and today's play gave me more insight into dementia, quite inspiring... fantastic,' said one. 

The many positive comments from the people whom the play was portraying are what Schneider thinks ensured the play's further success.

'It was the feedback from that show which helped us to win a grant from Arts Council England's Strategic Touring fund.'

This £187,000 grant has enabled Inside out of mind to go on tour until the end of March 2015 to Derby, Nottingham, Exeter, Warwick, Canterbury and Leicester.

The traditional gap between science and the arts is clearly one that Schneider is keen to bridge.

'I think working with the arts has an enormous amount of potential. We've just been awarded a doctoral training centre from Alzheimer's Society to look into the arts and dementia.'

Even Schneider has been surprised by the effect that the play has had.

'Our sound director in the production found himself some time later in A and E, and while he was waiting he discovered that the nurses were still talking about the show.

'We like to say that we started a conversation with this production and it is carrying on.'

For more information about the play visit www.meetinggroundtheatrecompany.co.uk

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