HomeBlogFloral art and people with dementia: Ikebana in Matia

Floral art and people with dementia: Ikebana in Matia

In this new edition of our blog we return to a series of texts through which we have been discovering different experiences that bring art closer to people with dementia.

In this interview, Eusebi Zubillaga invites us to immerse ourselves in the world of Ikebana, from the Japanese "Living Flower", a term used to refer to the art of flower arrangement in Japan. As a result of her work as a volunteer in Matia centres, Eusebi has found an intimate connection between people with dementia and flowers. This is how she describes it:

Q - Where does your interest in Ikebana come from?

Eusebi – One day I saw a very small and suggestive advertisement in the newspaper about an Ikebana course. I called the person who was giving it and the following week I was in his workshop. The first session for me was something striking and revealing. I had an out of the ordinary experience. While I was preparing the flowers I felt that all of nature, including landscapes, mountains, rivers..., all of it lay at my feet, accompanied by a "deafening silence".... For four years I received one lesson a week, until I received my diploma from the Japanese master Ikenobo.

Q - What has been your experience with people with dementia?

Eusebi – At first I had doubts whether I would be able to develop Ikebana with them. In time I discovered that "there is no dementia", but rather people with a great desire to enjoy something new and attractive such as flowers. As a result of this connection I have received many expressions of gratitude, and it is certain that all the participants experienced from the first day something that made them feel "valid", "loved" and interested to continue the next day.

           On a personal level, the experience of being with these people has given me a great sense of peace and admiration, as there are many emotions moving there. From that not being worth it or not knowing at the beginning, to             seeing how each and every one of them moved with interest in their flower arrangement. It was a deeper, more intimate relationship than is normally the case.

Q - Could you describe how you work with them? Which methodology do you use?

Eusebi - The first thing is to "surprise" with the flowers I take for the compositions. Then I prepare a centrepiece with sweets, chocolates,... to start the arrangement. A minute's silence before starting and there they are all eagerly and willingly ready to do their job. When they finish the arrangement, I approach them one by one to correct and then I encourage them and invite them to look and share what they expect, looking for words that coincide with their expressions... This is very important to build their confidence.

           It is also essential to involve the family members, showing them the arrangement once it is finished and corrected.

Q - Which are your goals?

Eusebi - The main thing is to make them feel valued and loved again... to make them enjoy the moment and find excitement through a new daily incentive. One day the decoration of the table, another day the flowers, another day the colours... Teach them the value and meaning of colour for each one of them, listen to them to know which flowers they prefer when they go shopping... The concept is to look for a representation of each person in the flower.

Q - What communication strategy do you use and how do you communicate with people?

Eusebi - From the beginning of the class I use a simple, straightforward gesture of welcoming everyone equally. This works. There is a commitment on an affective level that is very important. Not to make preferences and that what is talked about is always what people are concerned about. To make them take a little step forward with comments that are beautiful, wise...

Q - How does what you do with these people benefit you?

Eusebi - We talk about aspects such as stimulation, enjoyment, meaningful and personalised activity, self-esteem, reminiscence..... Ikebana nurtures an attitude of hope towards something that is seen to be pleasing to them. Something moves in the whole person, on an affective level, on a physical level,... A self-demand to face something new that provokes pleasure. All this translates into this impatient waiting for the day of the flowers, as they call it, and in comments such as: "Today I have risen, I am very happy. I've come out of it on my own".

We invite you to delve into such an exciting area as the combination of art and dementia, and to follow initiatives such as the Dementia in Cultural Mediation (DCUM) project, a European ErasmusPlus programme, with the participation of Matia Instituto, from which we approach a multitude of artistic and cultural practices that promote the social inclusion of people with dementia in their immediate environment, and therefore, their well-being. 

Some guidelines and key points to keep in mind when starting an Ikebana session

  • An initial contact with the person makes it easier to get the most suitable floral elements for each him/her.
  • It is also necessary to buy and organise a bag, water, special scissors, and othe elements specific to Ikebana (kenzan,...).
  • The activity should take place in a quiet space. Ikebana requires silence.
  • Groups of 7 or 8 people, each with their own place and a pottery of their choice on which to place their flowers.
  • An incentive at the start of the class could be to offer a sweet.
  • Each composition should have two of three flowers to make it more harmonious.


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