Gill Windle is the Acting Director of Dementia Services Development Centre Wales, Bangor University, Associate Director of the Wales Centre for Ageing and Dementia research and Co-Director at Created Out of Mind. She previously led Dementia and Imagination, a programme which successfully demonstrated the unique contribution of the visual arts in dementia care.
Please tell us about some of the work you have done to support, improve and contribute to the lives of, people with dementias?
One of the things I am most proud of is a study I led called Dementia and Imagination, which ended in January 2017. This was a large programme of work funded jointly by the AHRC and ESRC and saw researchers, charities and arts services working together. We used visual arts as an exemplar and catalyst for change.
We examined the benefits of taking part in visual arts activities in 125 people living with dementia in England and Wales. We showed that taking part in a visual arts activity was better for wellbeing than just taking part in a social activity, highlighting the unique contribution of the arts in dementia care.
The participatory nature of the activity, the process of professional artists enabling such a stimulating group experience, was very revealing. As one participant noted:
“I enjoyed it. It did me good. I felt like I belonged. Nice to be part of a group. It relaxed me. I lost all my worries concentrating on that. I laughed. I look at what I did and think, well, I am not useless! it's quite good isn't it!... [It] stopped me going down. It's something to be proud of. Because we were all a bit of a desperate group before you came.”
This collaboration also led to our community partners Denbighshire County Council winning an award for their visual art programmes from the National Campaign for the Arts' (NCA) Hearts For The Arts Awards 2018. The work featured as a research exemplar in an Arts Council Wales report examining how the arts are benefiting health in Wales.
What was your motivation for getting involved in the field of dementia?
I like a challenge!
What would you say has been your greatest achievement or highlight?
The first thing that comes to mind here is my Dad. He developed vascular dementia after a stroke, and I think my background knowledge enabled me to really make the best of this experience. It was at times good fun, as I had a new, much chattier, albeit somewhat forgetful Dad….
I have only recently taken over as lead of our research centre and I want to keep up our excellent work; amongst other things supporting early career researchers to step up and develop their own idea funded studies.
If you could change one thing now to improve the lives of people living with dementia, what would it be?
More support paying for social care- it feels scandalous that people lose their homes to pay care fees, and it terrifies families.