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Puppetry in Demenia Care by Karrie Marshall

Joanna Hruby reviews the latest book by Karrie Marshall

A few years ago, at the Little Angel Theatre’s Applied Puppetry Symposium, I was lucky enough to be present at a talk given by Karrie Marshall. In her gentle but commanding way, Marshall used video clips, photographs and personal accounts to illustrate to us the astonishing, touching and, at times, deeply moving ways in which she has witnessed elderly people with dementia overcoming their psychological barriers through the use of puppets. All present at Marshall’s talk were visibly captivated by the stories and case studies she spoke of, and by her deep sensitivity to, and knowledge of this field to which she is so devoted; Marshall’s new book, Puppetry in Dementia Care, provides a brilliantly informative distillation of this work.

Using puppets with people with dementia is of course just one of several examples of how puppets are increasingly being used in various ‘applied’ social and health care settings to enhance creativity, self-expression and personal development. With a background in nursing, counselling and social care, Karrie Marshall has spent many years developing frameworks and formats for using puppets with people with dementia in care homes, and her deep understanding of the difficulties faced by them, their families and carers lies at the heart of her book.

Marshall illustrates the fact that a person with dementia is gradually stripped of the cognitive thinking processes which enable standard verbal communication. With words and language no longer serving as tools for contact and connection between people with dementia and their loved ones, the resulting barriers to verbal communication can cause the person with dementia to become isolated and withdrawn, whilst causing pain and frustration for their family members. Marshall points out that this diminishing of cognitive functions forces people with dementia into a more visual way of seeing the world - and, in fact, their creativity and imagination will remain unaffected by the illness. The book explains how puppets offer a communication method based on visual language, symbolism and sensory experience – one which is wholly accessible to people with dementia, enabling them to override the barriers of verbal language, reconnect with their emotions and ultimately, Marshall suggests, reclaim their identity.

The book begins by tracing the traditional cultural role of puppetry back to roots based on community-building, ritual and healing – Marshall analyses the power of puppetry as a social tool and describes its different forms. In following chapters Marshall explores the various themes central to using puppets with people with dementia – the art of responding to, and being guided by the unique needs of each individual; the role a puppet can play in guiding them through a change in relationship with a family member or carer; the ways in which puppets can be used to provide comfort in times of distress or conflict. In later chapters Marshall creates links with narrative and life story work, explores the power of music and singing with puppetry and describes the particularly valuable results of using animal puppets with people with dementia, with their nature as absolutely non-verbal creatures, and the psychological triggers they can cause based on nostalgic links with previous household pets. The final section of the book contains instructions and guidance for making a range of different puppets suitable for use with the elderly in care homes.

Laced with informative, sensitive material relevant to those in the fields of health and social care, puppetry, creative arts, or simply those caring for someone with dementia, Marshall’s book is a truly valuable contribution to the growing body of research suggesting that puppets are a key tool for accessing the emotions, imagination and sub-conscious of individuals facing a wide range of psychological barriers, including dementia. Above all, it is the personal accounts Marshall uses to frame each chapter which lend the book its gravity – descriptions of the huge milestones reached through puppet interventions: a non-verbal person with dementia exchanging words with a puppet; an unresponsive, disinterested individual finally interacting with the outside world through the use of animated silks; a usually hostile individual enjoying the sensation of stroking an animal puppet. They are small moments, but deeply significant ones, made possible ‘…in the world of puppetry, where there is no pressure to remember anyone.’

Puppetry in Dementia Care: Connecting Through Creativity and Joy is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Paperback: £19.99 / $34.95

2013, 234mm x 156mm / 9.25in x 6in, 264pp
ISBN: 978-1-84905-392-1, BIC 2: JKSG

December 2013

If you have items for inclusion in these pages then please Contact us

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