THEATRES and arts companies across Scotland should consider the benefits of staging dementia-friendly shows, a Scottish pioneer in the art form in Scotland says.

With Scottish Opera set to stage its second dementia-friendly opera, a version of La Boheme, and the staging of a new, specially-written play for people with dementia at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh last week, Paul Hudson, the co-ordinator of dementia friendly shows and programmes at the Festival Theatre, believes it is a growing art form in method and importance.

There are around 90,000 people living with dementia in Scotland and it is estimated that 20,000 people will be diagnosed with the condition each year by 2020.

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Mr Hudson is a full time member of staff at the theatre, appointed in 2015 funded by the Life Changes Trust, who role is to develop a programme of activity for people living with dementia.

He said: "It is something that wasn't spoken about - and there is still quite a lot of stigma attached to a dementia diagnosis, a lot of fear.

"People think it is just about memory loss but there are a whole lot of other things involved - balance, being able to put things in sequence.

"It feels good to be doing something useful."

He added: "One audience member said to me, a few days after a show, 'I cannot really remember it, but I know I feel great', and it is all about that, the afterglow."

The work has raised interest - already three delegations of officials from Japan, which has an ageing population, have visited and studied the work of Mr Hudson at the theatre.

He has overseen a series of changes to make the theatre, a key cultural venue in the capital, more dementia friendly, with better signage, metal nosings on carpets to make steps more obvious, a redesigned cafe, increased staff training, and other adaptations.

Performances for those with dementia, including a dementia-friendly production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang have been staged, and last week a bespoke play for those affected by dementia was staged in the theatre.

Dementia friendly performances adapt for their audiences in various ways, sometimes, but not always, cutting running time, but also including live music, softening lights and sound cues, removing distracting sound effects such as bangs and flashes, slowing down visual affects, and including more direct contact with the audience.

Mr Hudson said: "We hope that in the next five years, we will encourage producers to budget for dementia friendly performances, in the same way that they will budget for audio-described or BSL (sign language) performance, which are written into contracts.

"It's not unrealistic to think in five years we will be in a place where, dementia friendly performances are part of our regular list of shows."

He added: "I think they need to build it into what they are doing.

"The nice thing is that people who come from care homes, who come to see our more bespoke shows, it gives them the confidence to come and see our main house shows.

"Other theatres are taking notice - the Traverse Theatre are taking interest, so is the Royal Lyceum, as are Dundee Rep, and Scottish Opera is on board."

The West Yorkshire Playhouse version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was in Edinburgh last October, was Scotland’s first dementia-friendly performance of a major touring musical.

Mr Hudson said: "The reason this all happened was through Friends of the theatre - staff started noticing that people had stopped coming to events, they were part of the theatre family, really active part of the theatre's life, so we contacted them and found out they had just been diagnosed with dementia.

"Basically they had lost confidence in coming to the theatre, so it led us to ask, is there something that the theatre can do to enable people to continue do what they love doing.

"The funding, from the Life Changes Trust, has allowed us three years to try stuff here."

Another example of dementia-friendly shows was performed last week - Curious Shoes was a show specifically designed for people living with dementia and their loved ones, created by Magdalena Schamberger, Artistic Director of the arts in health charity Hearts & Minds.

Performed at the Festival Theatre, the bespoke performance was designed for an audience of 20 people, and involved a mixture of structure and improvisation.

Ms Schamberger said: "Our approach provides time and space for people to respond in their own individual way.

"It provides an opportunity for people with dementia to participate and share a creative experience with their loved ones and carers and to connect to the world around them."

During its development, a focus group was invited to come in to the rehearsal space to help inform the process. The group was made up of individuals who are living with dementia and their loved ones or carers.

One of the members of the group whose wife has dementia said: "The true result of how successful the session was is that on leaving the Studio, she said, 'Oh I enjoyed that'.

"You may not realise how much that little statement means to me but I can assure you it is not something I hear very often. We look forward to the next session with great enthusiasm."

Scottish Opera has taken a particular interest in dementia friendly performances, beginning with a landmark production of The Marriage of Figaro, the UK's first dementia friendly opera, at the Festival Theatre in November last year.

A new dementia-friendly performance of another famous opera, La Boheme, will take place in May and June in Glasgow and Edinburgh this year.

The operas are specially abridged, and have a running time of one hour 45 minutes including an interval.

Sound and lighting levels are adjusted, and the cast is joined on stage by a narrator.

Audiences will also be able to go in and out of the auditorium during the performance and see the show in the foyer areas on TV screens.

The dates also include audio-described performances and touch tours for audience members with visual impairment.

Since 2010, the Company’s Education and Outreach Department has run the Memory Spinners programme in Glasgow, which uses music, storytelling, movement and the visual arts to help people with dementia.