Leah Schulze (Germany)

03.01 – 27.02.2022

I spent January and February 2022 in the Narva Art Residency. 

My name is Leah and I am a designer in the field of social design. I have specialized in designing interactive tools for people having dementia. 

My grandmother has been diagnosed with dementia, like this the topic became very important for me as a person but also for me as a designer. Not only for the person affected but also for their friends and relatives the effects of the disease are very tough, sad and difficult to handle. Experiencing this with my beloved grandmother, I wanted to find ways how to handle dementia in other ways. The toys I have been designing do not aim to cure dementia, they offer an innovative, playful and lively approach to keep up social interaction and at the same time activate brain, senses, and locomotor system. They are designed to experience ease, playfulness and encouraging entertainment. While cognitive stimulation is critical for the therapy of people suffering from dementia, my tools help to create precious moments for all parties involved. After spending a lot of time in care homes, I realized how people having dementia are also very much interested in touching soft materials such as fabric or wool. As Narva is a former textile capital it seemed a great opportunity for me to come here and explore this town.

The Narva Care Home offered me the fantastic opportunity to come there three times a week. During that time I was giving creative workshops to clients of the Care Home. I was trying to encourage the people to be creative themselves with a focus on soft materials.

I am not going to lie – this has been a challenge for me. Especially the language barrier has been quite hard for me to handle, as my Russian was more or less limited to „молодец“, which can be translated to „well done“. I will probably never forget that word again. I was very lucky being supported by amazing translators, who made this struggle a lot easier. They were not only helping me to give instructions, but their help also gave me the chance to understand the clients better and on a deeper level. 

I wanted to give the clients a chance to create things by themselves. Being creative and achieving something beautiful is so important for people having dementia. For the clients it provided a feeling of success and autonomy. Feelings which often miss out in the course of this malady. 

I was not only very impressed by a few of the clients dexterity but also by some of the resulting art pieces. It was very exciting for me to see what skills and abilities the people still have and what brings them joy. We had so much laughter and special moments together. I experienced the clients as friendly and motivated. But of course there were days when some clients were very confused and sad. Sometimes I was holding hands for a long time, trying to calm people down and listening to their worries, ven though I couldn’t understand the words.

Out of all these experiences and observations I was designing a prototype of another interactive game – this time made of textiles. 

Visiting the Narva care home was such a pleasure for me in many ways. I was able to deepen my knowledge about people having dementia so much and working with them inspired me in many ways. I do hope that I was able to give the clients something back of what they were giving me by working with them. 

Generally speaking, I see a big relevance in finding ways to integrate people suffering from dementia in our society.

Leah Schulze

Leah Schulze

Social design