IDEAL (Interaction, Dementia and Engagement in Arts for Lifelong learning)

Working with Equal Arts, the IDEAL project helps artists and social enterprises to run interventions and activities for people living with dementia (PwD). In the form of workshops, these activities offer a creative outlet for PwD thus encouraging increased agency and sense of social identity. The project investigates new workshop activities and settings, and effective ways for managing engagement. This will lead to a new training service with materials, and an online programme.


Catalyst R1

Lead Organisation

Newcastle University


North East England


Living well with Cognitive Impairment, Social Support Connections

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About the project

Over the past few years, researchers, governments and social enterprises have become increasingly involved in the development of interventions to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia (PwD). Arts activities such as arts & crafts workshops and art gallery guided tours have been identified as one effective way to give PwD a creative outlet, increased agency, and a reinvigorated sense of social identity. However, for the artists and social enterprises running such interventions, there is little available training on how best to communicate with PwD in order to maximise the benefits of these interventions.

The IDEAL project will address this through collaborative partnership with Equal Arts and Sunderland Culture, two UK organisations who offer creative ageing workshop programmes to support people living with dementia-related cognitive decline and resulting social isolation. Based on research produced prior to, and as a result of, this funding, we will produce a training service – in the form of workshop packages and an online training programme – which will highlight and identify effective communication strategies for engaging PwD in a meaningful way in these activities. This would include examples of effective workshop activities and, more specifically, communication strategies, such as effective instruction-giving and effective evaluations of PwD work, based on real-world examples from a range of scenarios (i.e. when carers are present, when PwD are without carers, etc.)

In this research, applied linguists and social gerontologists from Newcastle University are building on a previous case study carried out with partners at Sunderland Culture, to investigate effective workshop activities and good communicative practices in arts interventions for people living with dementia (PwD). Through video analysis of recordings of arts workshops, language and non-verbal conduct were analysed to identify the interactional strategies that workshop facilitators (and carers) use that result in increased, active participation, and which enable people living with dementia to contribute autonomously to the activity.

These insights have been shared with the stakeholder organisation, and have featured in research dissemination activities internationally, with invited talks given in to relevant stakeholders and research centres in Denmark and Sweden (2019), data presentations given in Japan (2018), and findings presented at a leading international conference (Finland, 2019). As a result of this, the NU team has been awarded the next Atypical Interaction Conference 2022, a prestigious international meeting attracting 200-300 scholars from around the world, and will be representing NU at the British Council organised RENKEI meeting in Tokyo, on Healthy Ageing and Dementia (March 2021).

The research dimension in the proposed project expands on the previous pilot study (in which one workshop setting was examined) to five new workshop settings in arts spaces across the Northeast of England. This will provide a more nuanced and detailed insight into effective activities, and related communication strategies, in such arts workshop settings, which will help to inform training materials more effectively.

The workshop programme will initially be delivered across the Northeast of England, with the potential for further roll-out, and the online training programme will be made available (online and as hard copies to order) for wider distribution through Equal Arts, the internationally recognised “creative ageing charity providing arts and creative activities for older people and those living with dementia” (

Through research-informed training, this project will improve the quality of arts interventions for PwD, which will in turn improve the quality of life for both PwD, and their carers.


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