Alzheimer Europe – day 3

The last day of the conference began with one of the most fun sessions of the meeting: Arts and Dementia. We heard about projects involving, textile designers, art students, clowns, theatre groups and children’s writers. I particularly enjoyed hearing from two architects who designed a building to include an art gallery in a day centre for people with dementia in Florence. Of course Florence is famous for its art, but the motivation behind the project was to break down the physical walls that exist between people with dementia and the public. The building is flexible in that the art gallery space can be closed off from other parts of the centre, or the two can overlap allowing people to mix and mingle. The final talk of the session came from a Slovenian researcher who investigated children’s literature from the UK and Slovenia, coming to the conclusion that dementia is not often addressed and can be over-simplified to the point of inaccuracy. She recommended the book My Little Grandma Often Forgets, going so far as to translating the book in to Slovenian.

Unfortunately I missed the beginning of the next session on palliative care in dementia. However, I got there in time to hear Chris Gastmans from Holland provide an eloquent and thoughtful critique of the ethics around Advanced Euthanasia Directives as applied in Holland and Belgium. He particularly challenged the concept of autonomy as an over-riding principle in deciding how and when to apply a euthanasia wish in a person who is unable to communicate and who may not be ‘suffering’ – should the autonomy of the pre-morbid ‘well’ self over-ride the current situation for a person in the later stages of dementia? He proposed an alternative concept where respect for dignity takes a more prominent role in decision-making in this difficult area.

The coffee and lunch breaks at any conference are usually the bits where stuff gets done. Today I was able to put the architects from Florence in touch with Verena, an OT from Austria who has worked on dementia-friendly pharmacies, and with Patrick from Dublin who measures outcomes of these sorts of interventions. I had some other useful chats, in particular I enjoyed talking to Lee McGill, a civil servant from the UK who has been heavily involved with promoting dementia as a priority in the UK, the G8 and the WHO, and setting up the World Dementia Council.

It’s a shame that my flight left early and I couldn’t stay for the final afternoon (I’m on-call tomorrow!). But, I’ve been mightily impressed with the people at the conference. I was expecting high-level discussions about abstract ideas that will probably never work or happen. What I got was highly competent and approachable people from a range of backgrounds actually doing useful stuff, working to share and implement ideas across national boundaries and across disciplines.

I may even be back next year.