The potential for lifelong learning in dementia: a post-humanist exploration
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Numbers of people with dementia are projected to grow to 682 million globally by 2050. However, despite this escalation, the widely-promoted positive vision of lifelong learning throughout all ages does not extend to people with dementia. Constructions of learning for those with dementia are predominantly limited to the management of symptoms. The focus on retrieval of memory does not seem to allow for the emergence of the learner as a ‘new beginner’ or as a teacher. This paper focuses on a recent study, Beyond Words to challenge dominant assumptions about dementia and learning. Using a post-humanist theoretical framework, this longitudinal qualitative study explores the benefits of community music for those who face problems communicating with words: such as those with dementias, autism, learning difficulties and brain damage. Rather than characterising them as ‘non-verbal’ it positions them as ‘post-verbal’ and able to communicate in different ways. Moving away from discussions of ‘selfhood’, the paper uses a post-humanist approach to explore an agentic assemblage including one person with dementia from the study and also explores how another participant teaches important lessons about materiality and time. It demonstrates that learning and ‘new beginnings’ and ‘becomings’ can and do take place at advanced stages of dementia, challenging the assumption that dementia is a wasteland for learning. It also shows how people with dementia have much to teach researchers about living and learning.
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