New play challenges dementia stereotypes

It all started with a Leonard Cohen song. Now, a play inspired by a line of lyrics in Cohen’s song, Anthem, has taken on a life of its own and is changing the way families and support staff approach dementia care.

In January, the research-based drama Cracked: New Light on Dementia will run at several venues in Toronto, including an event at the Ontario Science Museum. The new play raises questions about many of the dehumanizing practices that still prevail in care settings and gives family members and support staff better ways to interact with persons living with the disease.

“The play is inspired by the lyrics: ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’,” said Sherry Dupuis, a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, who led the project. “The play challenges dementia as an unmitigated tragedy and shows just how flawed and one dimensional society’s view of the disease is.”

Abstract oil painting

An original oil painting by Cracked researcher Gail Mitchell portrays lyrics from Leonard’s Cohen’s song, Anthem.

Alzheimer's Disease is one of most feared illnesses

Currently, approximately one million Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. After cancer, it is the most feared disease in Canada.

"With cancer the fear is death, with dementia people fear a loss of self. We wanted to challenge how we think about dementia,” said Dupuis. “People with dementia do not lose personhood and have the ability to live well, especially when they have strong, compassionate supportive relationships.”

Relationships at the heart of better care

Written collaboratively by a team of researchers, a playwright, a group of professional actors, and persons actually living with dementia, the play follows two families as they learn how to navigate relationships and support each other after a dementia diagnosis.

“With dementia, relationships often become strained or non- existent because of the fear and misunderstanding surrounding the disease,” Dupuis said. “In addition, many policies and practices in long term care homes limit the ability of staff to develop strong relationships and really care for their residents in a human and life affirming way.”

To counter current care challenges, Cracked provides viewers with new ways of seeing persons with dementia, and proposes care methods that help foster strong relationship and preserve dignity.

Experiencing dementia through theatre 

“The real beauty of the play is that staff and family members can see a different way of caring, rather than reading about it or hearing about it in a lecture. It’s very powerful that way because they feel the story at a very visceral, emotional level,” said Dupuis.

Performances held in long term care homes are helping the researchers examine changes in understanding and actions among staff members.

“We know from research that traditional ways we education staff in dementia care is not always effective,” said Dupuis. “Plays like Cracked could be the key to inspiring change in care practices.”

Performance dates:

  • January 17 & 18, 2015: Ontario Science Centre, Toronto
  • January 20, 2015: 19th on the Park, Stouffville
  • January 23, 2015: Cyril and Dorothy Joel and Jill Reitman Centre for Alzheimer’s Support and Training, Toronto,
  • January 28, 2015: Toronto Rehabilitation Institute

Find out more about performance dates and ticket information.