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How Creative Arts Help Patients Take the Next Step Forward

At the Intersection of Music, Dance, Art and Science Lies the Potential to Reduce Stigma and Improve Quality of Life

There are many factors that contribute to KITE being consistently ranked the number one rehab research facility in the world, including number of scientists and trainees, total research papers published and annual funding. 

One of the less quantifiable measures, however, is the institute’s commitment to supporting multiple innovative programs and services, and empowering patients and families with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their care.

For two of KITE’s award-winning scientists, the arts, combined with research and innovation, are central to helping patients regain their freedom, mobility, and confidence. 

Reducing stigma and improving quality of life through the arts 

Meet Dr. Pia Kontos, whose research primarily focuses on improving the lives of patients living with dementia. She is an advocate for incorporating music, dance, general movement and other similar forms of art to help patients achieve a better quality of life. Arts programming helps address the stigma often associated with dementia - stigma being a lack of awareness or understanding of a disease or disability.

“Understanding the harm stigma imposes and how we can challenge it can improve the quality of life for people living with dementia and their families” says Kontos.  “To achieve this, I use research-based theatre and film to help audiences understand stigma and how they can better support those living with dementia.”

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, as many as half a million Canadians are currently living with or have symptoms of dementia and another one in five have cared for someone living with dementia.  Despite these numbers, there remains a lack of support, awareness, proper treatment and care. 

Kontos says that finding and implementing a balance between what is best for the patient while respecting their rights as a person is crucial. 

Much of the research-based films and theatre produced by Kontos give insight into how stigma can be a barrier to treatment, while also stressing the importance of maintaining positive relationships with people suffering from dementia as well as their families. 

“We are advocating for relational caring, which is another approach to care. This is based on research that I and my colleagues have conducted, looking at the importance of maintaining relationships with people living with dementia,” she says.  

Although Kontos has made great strides in bringing awareness to the stigma surrounding dementia, there has been a pivotal shift in healthcare and how treatment and care are delivered due to the pandemic. 

“Since the pandemic started, there has been a moral urgency to address the humanitarian crisis that we have witnessed. I am specifically referring to the impact of COVID on long-term care and the stigma-related inequities it highlights.”

Due to the ongoing crisis, Kontos and her colleagues have started a coalition to further help patients who are suffering from dementia. Reimaging Dementia: A Creative Coalition for Justice has support from academics, artists, human rights activists, and various legal representatives. 

Treating neurological impairment through music and dance 

Similarly, Dr. Kara Patterson’s work uses various forms of art to help treat patients. The aim is to provide patients with alternative ways to treat neurological impairment through music and dance. 

“Due to my focus on intervention, I am very interested in researching how dance and music help people move. The ways music helps patients interact with others and how it affects their mood. Our team is also interested in the interplay of a person’s rhythm ability and how rhythmical their walking is.” 

The goal of Patterson’s research is to help advance neurorehabilitation practice to improve mobility, gait and overall outcomes for people living with a neurological injury. 

“Our work focuses on two areas. The first area focuses on how walking is affected after a person has a stroke. The second area is trying to use that knowledge to then develop rehabilitation interventions to try and improve the outcome. We test the effects, but also want to explore how these interventions help people.” 

According to the Ontario Stroke Network, a stroke occurs when there is a blood vessel that has become blocked, causing a disruption in blood flow. It’s noted that during a stroke, the brain is gravely deprived of oxygen and glucose, which eventually causes cell-death. The longer the brain is deprived of oxygen and other important nutrients, the greater the possibility of permanent impairment. 

Although Patterson’s research aims to improve gait and mobility for those affected by neurological injuries present after a stroke, much of Patterson’s research is also cross-platform.

She says, “My research primarily focuses on neurological injury and disease, but I also had the opportunity to be involved in other projects and have supervised students who are working with other neurological conditions like brain injury and multiple sclerosis.” 

Patterson and her colleagues have also been working on a randomized trial which looks to incorporate a dance program with the intent to prove it has a positive impact on patients.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this program is on hold, but Patterson has plans to reboot the study in the future. Taking more of a holistic approach to treatment, the ultimate goal for her research is to use dance, music, and art to fully understand how each works in relation to a patient’s overall health both physically and mentally. 

Although Kontos and Patterson work on different projects and in separate areas of KITE, each has a common goal — to work diligently to improve the lives and mobility of patients using the arts. 

It’s something that goes far beyond care alone.  

Powered by KITEWorks

This story was produced as part of the KITEWorks content initiative, a partnership between The KITE Research Institute and the Storyworks program at Centennial College’s School of Communications, Media, Arts and Design.

As part of this program, KITE is collaborating with students in the Communications – Professional Writing (CMPW) program to gain real world experience by profiling the cutting edge research at our Institute.

A selection of stories produced through this partnership will be featured throughout the summer in this space and can be viewed in the KITEWorks magazine. More information about this collaboration can be found at this link.

Read the magazine here.