Digital social events worked well for people living with dementia – Dr Gary Kerr

Dr Gary Kerr, Associate Professor in Festival and Event Management at Edinburgh Napier University.

In Scotland, around two-thirds of those diagnosed with dementia are living at home, with the remainder in acute or residential care. A key challenge for all is the sense of isolation that can manifest early on after a diagnosis.

Pre-pandemic, social events were a key factor in boosting a sense of wellbeing for those affected, but lockdown brought with it particular challenges for this community.

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Our highly collaborative research project, Unlock & Revive, identified six active ingredients needed to deliver accessible online cultural and heritage events. The research was led by Edinburgh Napier, working with the University of Edinburgh, during a three-month period from April to June 2021 and involved seven Edinburgh-based cultural and heritage organizations running weekly online events that featured gardening, painting, art, cookery, history, literature and music amongst other topics.

We monitored the sessions in person, ran post-event focus groups with attendees, and carried out interviews with event organizers and found online events do boost attendees’ sense of wellbeing; build confidence; and establish a newfound appreciation for leisure activities and hobbies.

1 – Keep any event under sixty-minutes-long. A mid-morning start time is preferred.

2 – Include short interactive presentations, using simple language and supplemental visuals.

3 – Keep the number of attendees low and aim for engagement over education; and presenters should use multi-sensory triggers to create engaging narratives, allocating plenty of time for participant-led discussions.

4 – Ensure all event facilitators have up-to-date Dementia Training from a reputable institution.

5 – Organize regular socials and not one-off events. Using Zoom is the ideal platform: its ‘spotlight’ function is effective when combined with an administrator’s support to let people in, oversee the chatbox and monitor participants’ wellbeing.

6 – Lastly, Unlock & Revive emphasizes that a grassroots approach is taken to advertise these events, as social media promotions are less effective in reaching this audience.

As restrictions begin to ease, online events should still be considered, with most of those participating keen to see some form of online delivery maintained.

The format for an in-person event does not easily transfer to a digital delivery model, and particular effort must be made to facilitate maximum engagement and participation from participants when delivering events online for those living with dementia. Although 100% of participants told us they prefer in-person Dementia Socials, we found clear evidence that digital events do provide opportunities for social connection, and stimulation for individuals unable to attend live events – whether that is due to mobility and/or transportation barriers .

Everyone involved in our research expressed their appreciation and enjoyment of online socials and now see them as a useful option for a hybrid event model in the future. Our research has identified the active ingredients needed to deliver accessible online cultural and heritage events, which can only bring positive benefits to people living with dementia, and their caregivers.

Our full report can be downloaded at here.

Dr Gary Kerr, Associate Professor in Festival and Event Management at Edinburgh Napier University.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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