For the past few decades, one of the largest segments of the Canadian population, the baby boomers, has been growing older–well into their 60s. Fourteen percent of the current population of Canada is over the age of sixty-five, and the numbers are steadily rising . About 15% of these older Canadians are currently living with dementia . As future professionals in an aging world, we must get rid of misconceptions regarding older age disorders and educate ourselves on the challenges facing that population.
And this is exactly what Julia Gray intends to do with her play “Cracked: A New Light on Dementia”.
In an increasingly globalized world, access to scientific information has never been easier. However, the filtering and interpreting of the information available is still a challenge to many, as most of the research published is laced with jargon and complex language.
But Gray has engaged for the last 15 years in a form of theatre called art for knowledge translation: Its main goal is to diffuse scientific knowledge in a clear and engaging language for the audience. In the aforementioned play, she tries to break down the discourse that portrays dementia as a tragedy and a tragedy only – she believes that this ideology contributes to the creation of stigma around people living with the disease.
In the scenario of population aging, the elimination of this stigma is of utmost importance. And how important is art in this process?
According to Dr. Andrea Charise, professor of Health Studies and researcher of aging and the arts, very. Dr. Charise believes that art for knowledge translation is supposed to “crash together arts and health in ways that are not always comfortable.” By creating discomfort, one promotes questioning, conflict, and ultimately a revision of one’s point of view.
“Cracked” follows families that are currently grappling with the idea of a loved one receiving a diagnosis of dementia. In the innovative form of research-based theatre, the play depicts the entire journey from receiving the diagnosis to starting a new life in a long-term care facility. By portraying the raw, unfiltered experience of dementia patients, it intends to inspire reflection among the audience about the struggles and realities of this growing population. Gray believes that theatre is unique in promoting knowledge translation because it engages the audience in a tri-dimensional environment and makes them see the whole picture, rather than just details of moving images.
She, however, does not believe theatre to be superior in any way to other forms of art: “researchers need to think about the ways they would like to engage their audiences, or the kind of space they are interested to open up to discuss or explore their research: each art form holds the potential to engage audiences differently and there is no one ‘right answer’ about what works ‘best’”, she says.
One thing Julia is adamant about, however, is the improvement of life quality for people living with dementia after seeing her play “Cracked”. Persons living with dementia have reported not feeling the need to “hide” anymore when seeing the play, Julia relates. They have felt help in overcoming fears and anxieties surrounding their condition, and opened up channels of communication to talk to others about it. Julia describes her play as “unexpectedly fun”: She believes that through musical numbers and comedy sequences, she can examine and reverse the commonly held idea that a diagnosis of dementia generates nothing but sadness and preoccupation in a family’s life.
Finally, “Cracked” is a way to glance at how one’s life quality happens relationally, in Julia’s words, “persons living with dementia do not have good quality of life in a vacuum, but because of their relationships to themselves as well as the world around them which can be improved in part by shifting attitudes.” In this way, she intends to breakdown the stereotype of the older person, having long forgotten the people they loved and the life they’ve led.
Such reflections are crucial not only for people living with dementia, but for all of us, who will live in a progressively aged country for all of the foreseeable future. Theatre and the arts are only another way to start a discussion on this issue that might, one day, affect all of us.
You can follow the play’s Facebook page to make sure you don’t miss a performance near you. This article would not be possible without the excellent collaboration of Julia Gray, at Possible Arts. Julia, I thank you immensely. https://possiblearts.ca
By: Marcela Costa
Edited by: Veerpal Bambrah
 Statistics Canada – Seniors. Retrieved from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm
 Dementia Numbers in Canada, Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/What-is-dementia/Dementia-numbers