Ageing research theatre collaboration

University of Cambridge| Mon May 15 11:04:37 EDT 2017
Ageing research theatre collaboration
This month researchers from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health (CIPH) have been contributing to public panel discussions in a series of events linked to Best New Play OFFIE nominated production The Lounge, which shines a spotlight on how we cope – or fail to cope – with ageing.

The discussions have opened up debate around important issues relating to ageing and care for the elderly, including the current state of social care, and other questions that the play raises.

Former CIPH PhD student Dr Daniel Davis, now a clinical research fellow in geriatric medicine at UCL, and Dr Jane Fleming, one of the CIPH Public Health of Ageing Research Unit’s senior researchers, were among collaborators in a successful bid for a Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award that supported the award winning theatre group, Inspector Sands, to develop the play initially for the 2016 Edinburgh Festival.  Critical acclaim for the Edinburgh show has been endorsed by continued high praise for the London run, with The Guardian’s review commending “an extraordinary play” and its three versatile actors’ unusual sensitivity.

Research from one of the world’s longest running population-based studies of older old age, the Cambridge City over-75s Cohort (CC75C) study, conducted by the Public Health of Ageing Research Unit at CIPH, informed both the development of the play and the panel discussions at a number of sessions.  As part of this study, more than two thousand people from the first CC75C survey in the 1980s were followed-up with interviews every few years over nearly three decades until the last participant died.  Over the last decade, when the study participants were aged at least 95, they and their closest relatives or other carers were interviewed about their experiences of care and of moving into long-term care, and their preferences regarding how they would like to be cared for if they needed more support as they neared the end of life.

At this year’s Women of the World Festival at London’s South Bank Centre, the session Old age is for the brave attracted a large audience of all ages, men as well as women, with standing room only.   Dr Fleming shared findings from mixed methods research with these “older old” people in the CC75C study, most recently funded by the Abbeyfield Research Foundation.   Dr Davis joined a panel debating ways of improving care for older people – Changes in times of scarcity – part of the Soho Theatre’s “Beyond The Lounge” programme.  In a further debate in this series – We need to talk about ageing – panellists included both Dr Fleming and Dr Davis discussing how and when we do, don’t or might start conversations about the realities of growing older and mortality. Besides clinical and research perspectives, the audiences appreciated the thought-provoking mix of panellists, including award-winning journalists and bloggers, campaigning activists and professionals from such disparate fields as the theatre, housing, psychology, social inclusion, end of life care and community voluntary sector organisations supporting older people.  The panel debates sparked questions and comments from the audiences around funding for care , undervaluing the invaluable role of carers – both informal care-givers and (under-)paid care staff, health inequalities in disability and available care provision, support for people with dementia and advance care planning.

Engaging with their audiences has been key to the approach of both the theatre company Inspector Sands and production company China Plate.  Feedback sessions after pre-views in London, Reading and Harlow of earlier versions of the play helped shape its development before the Edinburgh Festival.  A linked webpage is filling up with images of mass observation survey cards that audience members have been invited to complete after the show and return or post on Instagram giving their responses to questions prompted by the play, such as “When do you think you start growing old?” and “If you were leaving your home forever, what three objects would you take with you to remind you of your old life?”

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