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Lost in time confusion

The January 2019 “Knowledge Huddle” of GRASP took place in Vienna, a city known for its noteworthy science history in psychological and mental disease research – most prominently associated with the name of Sigmund Freud. Vienna is also a location where many cultures and scientific streams have flowed and continue to flow together, often resulting in a holistic perception. This has been the case with the emerging understanding of an epidemic medical phenomenon that is unfortunately hitting an ever-aging generation: dementia.

Dementia is defined as a neurocognitive disorder with various degrees of severity that cause a long-term, gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember that is great enough to affect a person's daily functioning. Further common symptoms include emotional problems, difficulties with language, and a decrease in motivation.

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s, which makes up 70% of all cases.

Those suffering from it call it “Head Full of Honey”, which became the title of a German drama film directed in 2014 by Til Schweiger – a film well worth viewing for an understanding of the effects of this disease.

There is no known cure for dementia. Educating and providing emotional support to the caregivers is a central concern of social services for dementia patients. Exercise programs are beneficial for improving the quality of activities of daily living.

People with dementia frequently are physically or chemically restrained, often to a greater degree than necessary, raising issues of treatment conforming to human rights.

This very special GRASP huddle was hosted by the Vienna University of Applied Arts under the lead of GRASP member Ruth Mateus-Berr at the University’s Innovation Laboratory, currently displaying a setting under the title “Dementia.Art.Society” (credits by “D.A.S., her introducing the exhibition and its mission as follows:

“ »Dementia. Arts. Society.« (D.A.S.) shows various ways art and design are able to positively impact both people with and without dementia. In this project exhibit, people with dementia share their resources with people without dementia, which creates empathy and awareness. Where social policies, therapy, care and medicine reach their limits, art and design strategies aim to open up new perspectives to people with dementia concerning their own capabilities and their situation within social environments.

D.A.S. Workshops allow diverse individual experiences and are disseminated and shared with caregivers, designers, family members and curious engaged conference audiences. Finally, it is important to remember that peoples’ capabilities and needs change over time and all support strategies have to be adopted accordingly. Caregivers too need time for themselves, and the society we live in must realize that we all know situations of confusion without illness being diagnosed and need empathy and respect in precarious situations”.

In this context, GRASP chairwoman Anja Puntari devoted her special interest to an exhibit named “Window of Perspectives” developed and described by Cornelia Bast: “The Window of Perspectives supports the often difficult entry into communication with people with dementia. It is about the perception, selection and combination of sensory impressions as well as the ability to differentiate without categorizations into right or wrong.

Specially prepared casements become materialized projection surfaces for emotional status descriptions in the form of haptical-optical compositions. The choice out of a multitude of small frames covered with different materials and their positioning on the casements are deliberate choices that relate different materials to each other and allow for vistas between the arranged objects. The joint work of several people increases the complexity of the communication and contextualization processes as well as their social potentials. The Window of Perspectives is suitable for placement in caring homes, where residents with dementia can exercise their enjoyment of creativity in a way that is also perceptible to other people, thus stimulating communication and interaction with roommates, nursing staff and visitors”.

The Window of Perspectives within the D.A.S. setting is the most recent dementia-related social design object and process. It is based on research experience with previously designed objects and offers rich options for researching and testing artistic methods involving people with and without dementia.

January 2019’s GRASP huddle engaged in discussions about the overall conception of the exhibition as well to the artful approach which the huddle members acquired for themselves, catalysed through Anja Puntari’s moderated disputes using her design cards for inspiration and ideas. In deepening further discussions, after an intervention from Ruth, the huddle members grasped pictures after their own choice downloaded from the internet and exchanged among themselves for the purpose of their own individual, nonverbal expression about their perceptions on how they conceive the D.A.S. theme. Complementary and in addition to this kind of “nonverbal exchanges”, each participant affiliated her/himself to existing drawings displayed on the walls of the laboratory. Although the session ended in an open-ended fashion, the group participants headed homewards with a new perception on dementia, accompanied by the quiet realization that this disorder could one day reach any of us.

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