Without words, and with masks, Finding Joy explores the impact dementia has on both the person with the disorder, and the people around them. Joy is a widow, living independently. She's visited regularly by her daughter and grandson, who witness her gradual deterioration. It starts with Joy putting strange items in the fridge, and a mix-up between some salad cream and some milk, and ends with her retreating into the past as the present becomes too confusing.
Dementia is a progressive disorder. It affects how the brain works, and in particular the ability to remember, think and reason. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, 850,000 people in the UK suffer from dementia. Worldwide, it's estimated that 135 million people will be living with it by 2050, and there have been warnings that a 'dementia tsunami' is coming. That said, the age-specific risk is thought to be falling, for men at least. The New Scientist reported this April that incidence of dementia in men in the UK has fallen by 41 per cent; there was only a 2.5 per cent drop for women.
There's no cure for dementia, and treatment tends to focus on making people's lives as comfortable and dignified as possible. In Finding Joy, the grandson visits one day bearing the gift of a toy dog. It's a glove puppet, which he brings to comic life to the sheer delight of his grandmother. At moments it seems like Joy thinks it's real dog, at others it's clear she knows it's make believe. Either way, the dog makes her happy and eases her distress.
In the real world, some dementia patients are being treated with PARO, a robot harp seal, and the results seem positive. Researchers at the University of Brighton say PARO reduces agitation and aggression, and promotes social interaction. An article in The Guardian quotes Claire Jepson, an occupational therapist at a specialist assessment unit for dementia patients. She says the robot seal 'allows people to still feel a sense of achievement, a sense of identity. They become the carer instead of the cared for.' Put simply, the robot is enabling some patients to find joy. (HB)
Finding Joy played Assembly Hall at 16:30 until 14 August - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/finding-joy
Alzheimer's Society: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk
Alzheimer's Research UK: http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org
Dementia was one of the challenges nominated for the 2014 Longitude Prize: https://longitudeprize.org/challenge/dementia
'Dementia incidence for over 65s has fallen drastically in UK men': https://www.newscientist.com/article/2084859-dementia-incidence-for-over-65s-has-fallen-drastically-in-uk-men/
University of Brighton's PARO Project: https://www.brighton.ac.uk/healthresearch/research-projects/the-paro-project.aspx
'How Paro the robot seal is being used to help UK dementia patients': https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jul/08/paro-robot-seal-dementia-patients-nhs-japan
'PARO Therapeutic Robot': http://www.parorobots.com
Magic Me, UK-based intergenerational arts organisation who run arts programmes with residential care homes, inc. people with dementia: http://magicme.co.uk