The art of the familiar helps dementia patients feel at home at hospital

York artist Dan Savage who has produced a series of bespoke murals on the walls of a new dementia assessment unit in Bradford.''Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

York artist Dan Savage who has produced a series of bespoke murals on the walls of a new dementia assessment unit in Bradford.''Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

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GOING into hospital can be an unsettling time whatever your condition, but for a patient with dementia it can be all the more frightening.

However, for those admitted to a new £2.5m dementia unit in Bradford, every last detail has been considered to make them felt as welcome and as much at home as possible. That has included the creation of 10 bespoke murals by York artist Dan Savage, who specialises in creating art for healthcare environments.

Part of the Betty's Tea Rooms mural.'''Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Part of the Betty's Tea Rooms mural.'''Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

He spoke with staff, patients and their families before choosing the series of beauty spots and landmarks for the murals, which act as familiar waymarkers for the patients, helping to reduce disorientation and confusion, while prompting conversations and encouraging reminiscence.

Sights such as the Cow and Calf Rocks, Bettys Tea Rooms in Ilkley, Skipton Castle and the Alhambra Theatre were sketched before being digitally manipulated so they could be reproduced on special wallcoverings that are suitable for a hospital environment.

Mr Savage, 32, said: “There were a lot of things to be aware of when creating the murals. For example, with the Cow and Calf Rocks, if I had used a photographic style it could have had the potential to deceive people as they might have thought it was real – you have to make the artwork look like art.

“Research shows that paintings of things that feel familiar, or are related to nature, are associated with being calm – artwork can even lower blood pressure. It’s such a powerful thing.

York artist Dan Savage with one of the pieces.''Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

York artist Dan Savage with one of the pieces.''Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

“Nobody chooses to be poorly, so it’s crucial that the art I produce relates to them, and provides a positive distraction.”

The murals are just one of a range of measures to make the unit more homely.

Each patient’s bedroom door looks like the front door to a house, traditional “hot” and “cold” tap design has been used in bathrooms and every patient specially selected colours and fabric that do not reflect or cause glare. Every patient has a personalised framed memory board, which family and friends can update.

Patients moved from Airedale hospital to the 22-bed unit at Lynfield Mount Hospital this week.

Ward manager Jacquie Edwards said: “We know that as the illness of a person with dementia progresses, their ability to make sense of their environment often decreases.

“If a person can make more sense of their surroundings it will help to make them feel more comfortable, and so reduce their anxiety and distress.”

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