Profiles in Psychotherapy and the Arts

Creative Connecting Program Supports Couples with Dementia

Heather Hill, PhD, developed the Creative Connecting Program to assist couples in which one partner has dementia.

By Heather Hill, PhD

Heather Hill, PhD, BC-DMT, a dance/movement therapist from Australia developed the program Creating Connection: You, Me, Us Supporting Couplehood.

The Creating Connection program was held for six fortnightly sessions between May and July in 2017 for couples in which one partner has dementia. The underlying philosophy of this program is that dementia represents a relational challenge to the couple. Although there is scarce literature on the effect on the couple, couples themselves are keen to maintain that relationship and actively work to do so.

Three key pillars of the program philosophy were:

  1. The program is not didactic but rather a facilitative process.
    It helps couples acknowledge their strengths and support them to develop their own ways to navigate through the many changes brought about by dementia, an ongoing process, of course, requiring ongoing adaptation.
  2. The program drew on different modalities: discussion, movement, mapping, photographs, imagery, etc.
    Given the cognitive difficulties of some of the participants, enabling thinking/discussion through different modalities offered more possibilities for the person with dementia to participate and have input. One participant with dementia, responding to the evaluation question “What do you think was the most important thing you gained from these sessions?” replied, “Being treated as a person who could make a contribution.”
    Multi-modality was not simply an enabler for the people with dementia but played an important role in carrying the thinking process forward for all. For instance, a discussion of resilience and dealing with change was preceded by experiencing strength/resilience in their bodies. The words to describe how their bodies stayed strong were the starting points for the subsequent discussion.
  3. The program drew on the power of group thinking.
    Some activities were for the couples together but others were for the group as a whole.
    Themes of the sessions related to affirming their relationship, acknowledging resilience and strength, nurturing themselves, identifying resources they could draw on (family, friends, community, professional) and navigating change.

One of the tangible outcomes of the program was that the participants developed a document offering their advice to other couples on how to navigate through the challenges of dementia. So committed have they been to creating this document that the couples have worked with Hill on it beyond the end of the program.

One of the other tangible outcomes of the program was the document created by the participants offered advice to other couples in layperson’s language. Hill hopes to print this document soon and distribute in libraries, medical clinics and other places.

The evaluation results were positive, establishing a modest beginning in exploring a barely explored terrain. 

This program was auspiced by Caladenia Dementia Care and funded by a community development grant from Yarra Ranges Council, Victoria, Australia.

References

Boylstein, C. & Hayes, J. (2012). Reconstructing marital closeness while caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s. Journal of Family Issues 33(5), 584-612.

Hellstrom, I., Nolan, M. & Lundh, U. (2007).  Sustaining ‘couplehood’: Spouses’ strategies for living positively with dementia.  Dementia, 6(3), 383-409.

Hill, H. & Pine, J. (2014).  Adventure, (not dementia) club.  Australian Journal of Dementia Care, 3(2), 22-25.