Manchester Metropolitan University

Tackling dementia through the art of comic books

A new research project aims to develop a comic book to raise awareness of the issues surrounding dementia.

Comic book about the use of inhalers

Previous comics studied by Sarah have tackled issues such as asthma

The rise in popularity of comic books shows no signs of slowing, with superhero franchises dominating cinema screens, and adaptations such as The Walking Dead becoming must-see television.

Yet researchers at Manchester Met think that comics can also play serious role in educating us about our health and wellbeing.

Research Associate Sarah McNicol is leading a new research project, which aims to produce a comic on dementia. Developed alongside people who have the condition, the comic will raise awareness of the issues faced by people with the condition, and their carers.

The year-long £10,000 project is funded by the Arts Council, and will see people with dementia work with artists to help them talk about experiences they might otherwise struggle to explain.

Comics can raise awareness of important issues

More than 850,000 people in the UK live with dementia, and numbers are set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. It is one of the main causes of disability later in life, yet much less is spent on it compared with other conditions.

Sarah says the condition’s prevalence, and its potential impact both on the UK population and its economy, are reasons why more should be done to raise awareness.

“I think that educational comics play an important role in healthcare. They are really effective at raising awareness of conditions, offering reassurance, and can act as a means of exploring the impact of illness on family relationships.

“However, not many people know about their use and effectiveness both within the health system and elsewhere. They also carry the stigma that they are light-hearted and just for children and young people. I think this is a shame, as my research has shown that they are excellent ways of helping patients and their families learn and understand conditions.”

“I hope that the comics might help change the perception that exists of people with dementia. There are many who still have ordinary lives, and I want the comic to share their stories.”

Project offers real-world benefit to society

The comic will be developed through workshop sessions where people with dementia from the Beth Johnson Foundation in Stoke-on-Trent will share ideas with Cathy Leamy, a comic-book artist from the US.

Together they will write a script, which will capture the experiences of people with dementia also and from health and social care professionals.

Once complete, the comic will be shared with hospitals, care homes and other organisations to help improve understanding of the condition. It will also help explore how health and social care professionals can use comics further in their practice.

Professor Richard Greene, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “It is terrific to see Sarah in receipt of funding from the Arts Council for this innovative project, which combines art and health in novel and exciting ways.

"We are keen to champion research projects such as these, as they exhibit real-world impact and offer a tangible benefit to society.” 

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