Last week the Brighton and Sussex Medical School hosted a free conference where speakers from Salmagundi Films, Bo Chapman and Zoe Flynn, presented their findings on treating Dementia patients using stop frame animations of the patients’ lives.

The next wave of Dementia research may not come from neuroscientific breakthroughs or glamorised Channel 4 medical trials but perhaps from the innovation of two graduate art students. They have been advocating stop frame animation as a therapeutic tool for facilitating growth in afflictions such as learning difficulties or abuse since 2004.  Zoe and Bo now hope to use their specialist knowledge to facilitate short term memory processes in Dementia sufferers. Their project, ‘Frames of Mind,’ aims to combat problems with short-term memory by presenting the patients with an interactive life story. Patients have a key role to play in the design and production of these films. Bo and Zoe claim it is a “liberating creative experience” for everyone involved and the project has been showing positive results.

Dementia is not something that is generally at the forefront of our minds unless we are affected by it. However, it was emotionally striking to watch staff interacting with dementia patients, using their own time to improve their patient’s lives. One care worker, Donna, worked with an elderly lady called Ivy who had forgotten the poetry that she used to write for her family. A bittersweet piece in ‘Frames Of Mind’ shows Donna reading Ivy’s forgotten poetry until the memories come flooding back. Emotional pieces like this made a clear impression on the audience and the ‘Frames of Mind’ project certainly tugs at the heartstrings. However, without any scientific studies performed with stop frame animation, is there really any conclusive evidence for using it as a medical tool? It may be too early to tell if stop frame animation has an early part to play in facilitating recovery in dementia patients. However, a paper published in the Journal of Dementia Care on Salmagundi films does contain many personal stories from patients and staff, which qualitatively supports their programme.

Interdisciplinary projects between the arts, humanities and sciences are something many think we will be seeing more of in the future, Zoe and Bo may well be ahead of their time. What was most remarkable about the lecture was the lively and active audience who came from such an assorted background. As well as Sussex students attending the lecture, there were workers in the care industry, film makers and researchers – including many who have had their lives touched by Dementia. The surreal techniques used by the film-makers and the warm but unwavering commitment Salmagundi Films have towards helping people, through using their art and filmmaking backgrounds, impressed the audience who were very warm in their reactions to the conference. During the Q&A session, Zoe and Bo were described as “sensitive and open people” who “shared their humanity.”

Sadly, funding for many Alzheimer’s and Dementia projects such as the work of Salmagundi Films has been in decline since the onset of the economic recession. However, Zoe and Bo are very confident that their work will continue despite this, with many projects and ideas for working with mental health patients in the works. Oakleigh Care Home and Sutton Council commissioned Salmagundi Films to work on a film project using surrealist animation techniques. The resulting film, called ‘How you look at it’, was presented to the National Dementia Congress in 2009.

‘Frames of Mind’ was presented at the first Arts in Dementia Care conference in London and their published journal article, ‘Making animated films with people with dementia’ is available in the Journal of Dementia Care 2011 or online on their website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *