Sitar Rose

Documentary filmmaker             Openhand Productions


Her work filming patients with dementia responding to music has convinced Sitar Rose that 'however masked they may be by their illness, the personalities are still there'. Her video may herald a breakthrough in the treatment of dementia, writes Sylvia Thompson

Good conversation is a fine art at the best of times. To succeed, it requires a careful, uncalculated sharing of interest, emotion and empathy. But to partake in a meaningful exchange with someone who has limited means of expression through diminished physical and/or mental health requires further special talent and inclination.

In her work with old people suffering from dementia, Maria Mullan, music programme co-ordinator with Age Concern in Northern Ireland uses music as a means of communication. Responding to Music is a video made by Scottish film-maker Sitar Rose which sensitively records the creative exchange of feelings and thoughts between Maria Mullan and patients in day care and residential settings in Northern Ireland.

Edinburgh-based film-maker Sitar Rose has 20 years experience as a documentary film-maker. This experience shows in the sensitive way she focuses on the wave of a hand, the tap of a foot or the glint in the eye of participants in Responding to Music.

"It was interesting for me to make a video which was observing someone doing this kind of work because I have done some experimental work myself using video with people with dementia. So I am used to picking up on non-verbal communication and seeing the whole person.

"I've worked with people who haven't got very much verbal communication and this type of work definitely brings people out of themselves even if they are at a very internal stage of their illness." While the use of the arts in such settings is not new, its value is still under-recognised, according to Rose. "In the past, there was an assumption that if people lose their rationality, the disease has taken over. My belief is that however masked they may be by their illness, their personalities are still there." Co-author of the booklet which accompanies the Responding to Music video John Killick puts his finger on the core issue in all of this.

"When you look at Sitar Rose's video portraits of these people, you wonder whether the individuals have dementia at all, yet when you meet them on the ward or in the lounge room, you have no doubt whatsoever," he says. "The opportunity presented by these projects - and there are others using visual art and photography - is that they maximise the potential of these people," says Killick.

Testimonials-Responding to Music