Studies and Research in Academia

Research has been an integral part of our practice in the sense that academic studies have guided the development of the overall practice. Other groups typically conduct research separately and often collaborate with universities to create case studies. Our practice has been developed through academic studies conducted over five years at two universities.

On the surface, reminiscence therapy seems similar to what we do. As part of reminiscence therapy, tangible objects trigger memories, such as photographs, music, and other artefacts. Our approach seeks to stimulate what Merleau-Ponty calls embodied memories in people with dementia. In Existential Phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty introduces philosophical concepts based on perception within and outside the body. He refers to the ‘body schema’ (the body’s faculty for perception) that facilitates ‘body subject perception’ (internal perception of itself).

These philosophical aspects have evolved through academic research and study at the University of Central Lancashire. Three years have been committed to developing visual stimulus elements at Blackburn College University Centre. Over five years of academic research, case studies have taken place. This approach allowed for a real-world evaluation in the field and provided insight not possible with other systems, such as theoretical simulations or surveys.

A Case Study

In a case study of a daycare service user, a service user showed symptoms of distress during an activity involving colouring. In response, she provided a meaningful photograph. We created a colouring page for her using an image of her grandson she carried in her purse. When we introduced this new stimulus, her anxiety subsided rapidly, and she remained uplifted.

She was delighted and commenced colouring in straight away; as the current activity occupied her, our conversations augmented her feelings of calm and enjoyment. We settled into the present moment and learnt new things about each other. Although the source material, a photograph, represents the past, the colouring of the pictures is a potential developmental activity that takes place in the present. Although photography and colouring are image-based, colouring an image derived from a photograph personally chosen by the service user facilitates emotional connectivity with the subject matter, the activity, with self, and relationally (with the facilitator, staff, and other service-users). The social dimensions of the practice, especially conversation, promote connectivity (between body and mind in the present) and interconnectedness (between others and the environment).

Feedback from participants

“I had a pleasant day out with my mom yesterday. She’s lonely and depressed all the time because she’s at home all the time. After doing this activity, I noticed a big difference in her. She was more comfortable chatting to people and engaging in new conversations, which isn’t what we usually do. Using photos we brought to the workshop, she discussed the past and presented good times. We talked about the good old days, as well as the present. After supporting mum’s health issues and anxiety for so long, it was nice to have a break. I would recommend this activity to anyone at home who is isolated and wishing for companionship. Mom loved doing something new and meeting new people. Thanks for letting us be a part of it”.

Accrington Community Activity – Mother and Daughter

"We know not through our intellect
but through our experience.”

Maurice Merleau-Ponty