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Stroke patients in Tayside are set to benefit from the announcement of an innovative research project that will study the impact of visual arts programmes in stroke rehabilitation.

Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust (THAT) in partnership with NHS Tayside’s Department of Allied Health Professionals and the Social Dimensions of Health Institute, Universities of Dundee and St Andrews, has been awarded research funds from the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) to lead a project to examine the effects on recovery and wellbeing of creative engagement in visual arts during inpatient stroke rehabilitation.

The project will commence in February of next year and will run until the beginning of 2015. Artists will work with stroke patients from across Tayside in the Stroke Rehabilitation Units at Perth Royal Infirmary and at Stracathro Hospital. The impact of their work with patients will be the basis of the research.

Patients recovering after having had a stroke will be given the opportunity to work with a visual artist during their inpatient stay. Patients will explore the use of art materials for their own creativity as a rehabilitative activity. Many of the participants will have never worked with visual art materials before and all will be coming to terms with impairments from their stroke that might include weakness and communication problems.

Working with a professional artist opens up the opportunity for communication and expression in a number of ways. Expression through art appears to help people develop their confidence, motivate themselves and recognise that they are more capable of achieving goals than they thought they were.

THAT, with the support of NHS Tayside, has been delivering and evaluating art programmes with stroke for a number of years through their innovative ST/ART Project partnership. The ST/ART Project was originally funded by the Big Lottery Fund from 2004-07 and since then has been supported by NHS Tayside through its Stroke Managed Clinical Network.

Chris Kelly, Projects Coordinator for THAT, has been in charge of developing and delivering the ST/ART Project. Over the last two years he has worked closely with Dr Jacqui Morris, NHS Tayside Allied Health Professionals Research Lead and a senior research fellow working in the Social Dimensions of Health Institute and School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Dundee. Chris said: “I have been developing this Creative Engagement model for the past 12 years and am delighted that we have now got recognition and support for our work at a national level. The announcement of the CSO award is the very positive culmination of that work and all the more remarkable as this is an unusual area for CSO to invest in.

“This research award takes our work to the next level where we can really start to look closely at how the model of Creative Engagement works and its effects on different participants.

“Dr Morris and her academic colleagues have brought knowledge, understanding and scientific rationale that will underpin the two year study.

“This is an amazing opportunity to use scientific research to test just how much the arts have to offer in this area of healthcare.”

Dr Morris added “The research proposal we have developed is both complex and unusual so we have built a very strong supporting academic team to help drive it forward, with collaborators in Stirling, Edinburgh and Glasgow Caledonian Universities as well as our team in Dundee.

“Chris has experienced artists available to deliver the intervention, and we will be supported by the Social Dimensions of Health Institute who have an excellent reputation in this type of research.

“This is a great for achievement for Tayside as it is a very innovative project.”