In her new book Creative Care: A Revolutionary Approach to Dementia and Elder Care, Dr. Anne Basting explores the benefits of performance and theatre to people living with dementia, and how this artistic expression can improve their emotional well-being.
On May 27, Basting, a gerontologist and MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, joined Penn Memory Center Director Jason Karlawish for an online discussion about “Creative Care” and how disrupting traditional dementia care programs with creativity and the arts can open up new pathways to healing and joy.
“This isn’t just another book about how to take care of your relative. Period,” Karlawish said. “This is a very thoughtful book that offends a lot of the stereotypes that have surrounded what it’s like to be a person living with dementia, and how to care for that person.”
Basting began as a playwright and a fiction writer, and earned her pursued her PhD in theater studies at the University of Minnesota. Now, she is a professor of theater in the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and president of TimeSlips Creative Storytelling. Throughout her work, she has trained her focus on older adults.
“Absolutely no one [in theater] was looking at representations of aging [in theater] and I found that — because I had very rich relationships with older adults in my life — a little puzzling,” Basting said.
Basting’s book, “Creative Care,” out May 2020 from HarperOne, is separated into three sections, breaking downBasting’s work and her take on its effect. The first explains her biography and her entrance into cognitive therapy through the arts. The second section is about what she means by creative care and how you can practice it in everyday life, using creativity to enhance caring relationships. The third section then focuses on her interpersonal relationships by using case studies of experiences with individuals and how to embed creative care methods into caregiving systems.
Using theater arts to assist in memory and cognitive therapy can allow someone to express their emotions and thoughts in a different way. Basting says if someone forgets a word, they can use a movement. If they forget a sound, they can sing.
“If you ask these open- ended, what I call, beautiful questions, you open up 1,000 possible answers and a 1,000 possible pathways for that answer to travel,” she said.
In the book, Basting described one of the plays she helped plan at the Morgantown Care and Rehabilitation Center in Morgantown, Kentucky. After two weeks of rehearsal and a year of planning, the residents put on their own version of “Peter Pan,” in which Wendy is in hospice care during her final phase of growing up. Residents watched wide-eyed and full of happiness.
“In my 25 years of bringing the arts to people in late life, almost no one believes me when I first suggest it is possible to feel joy in these moments, or that joy and meaning can coexist in some of the hardest times in our lives, if we are lucky to live that long,” Basting said.
Basting’s mission is to educate people, she said, and she hopes that readers can follow in her footsteps to transform their relationships with people experiencing dementia and other challenges that can accompany aging.
Older people’s lives get completely overwritten with medical framework, Basting says. That begs the question: Where is the human connection beyond the care?
“We haven’t traditionally seen dignity in the receipt of care, and if we can change that, that might change a lot,” Basting said.