Monday, June 18, 2007

Alzheimer's, Drama and Research, New Performance Seeks to Foster Humanistic Approach to Dementia Care Practice

Ethnodramatic Production to Help Enhance Communication and Relationships

CCAHTE Journal Advisory Board members
include leaders in the creative arts, health, training and education as well as researchers and scientists working at the intersections of the arts and sciences.
Continuing our reporting on CCAHTE Journal Advisory Board members and their ongoing projects this morning, we present information about a new ethnodramatic production by Pia C. Kontos, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, The University of Toronto.

Below we present brief excerpts from the paper, “Expressions of Personhood in Alzheimer’s, Moving from Ethnographic Texts to Performing Ethnography", Pia C. Kontos and Gary Nagalie, University of Toronto as published in Qualitative Research, 2006. (excerpts published with author permission.)

There were three main goals in developing the ethnodramatic production “Expressions Of Personhood in Alzheimer’s”

1) to provide an accessible presentation of research to audiences of diverse disciplinary backgrounds

2) to recover the experiential immediacy of the body present in the original data-gathering setting, which, in the case of this dramatic production, permits a powerful demonstration of how selfhood is manifested in gesture and action

3) to create a space to engage in a form of social inquiry that resonates simultaneously with critique and the envisioning of new possibilities (Denzin, 1997).

Expressions of Personhood in Alzheimer’s is a production that not only re-presents embodied expressions of selfhood in Alzheimer’s disease, but also critically exposes depersonalizing tendencies of treatment contexts and caregiving relationships that are a consequence of an assumed loss of selfhood that is widely associated with the cognitive deficiencies that lie at the core of dementia. It is our contention that this ethnodramatic production has the potential to open a space for seeing the humanity of persons with dementia, and for envisioning the prospect of a truly humanistic approach to dementia care practice.

As part of the development process Kontos created a partnership with ACT II Studio, a theatre school and creative drama centre for older adults, which is part of the Seniors Education Programs in Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Toronto, Canada. ACT II Studio has a demonstrated history of developing socially relevant dramas for public presentation. Their director, Vrenia Ivonoffski, agreed to provide artistic directorship.

The collaborative process began with a meeting between Kontos, Ivonoffski, and a group of interested actors. All were provided with descriptions of the research participants who feature in the five vignettes. Five actors committed to the project, all having had some personal experience with Alzheimer’s disease, which was agreed upon by Kontos and Ivonoffski as necessary background to sensitize them to the general condition of the illness and, as much
as possible, to the nuances of embodiment in the lived experience of the illness.

The development of Expressions of Personhood in Alzheimer’s is part of a larger research agenda to humanize the practice of dementia care. With the production now complete, we are embarking upon the next stage of our research, which involves the performance of this drama and focus groups we are conducting with nurses and ancillary health care professionals in three different long-term care facilities. It is anticipated that responses to the performance by the focus group participants will serve as a springboard for discussion about embodied selfhood, and how perceiving a broader range of behaviour as meaningful could enhance communication and the development of interpersonal relationships, and how this could ultimately improve the quality of caregiving and the quality of life of those living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Contact info: Pia C. Kontos: Department of Public Health Sciences University of Toronto 11035-550 University Avenue Toronto, ON M5G 2A2CanadaTEL: (416) 597-3422, ext. 7609FAX: (416) 597-7105Email:

Qualitative Research

ACT II Studios, Toronto