Evidence & Benefits


‘From the scientific side, there is growing evidence especially from neurobiology, that brain plasticity and ‘soft wired’ human empathy will support the ‘soft’ Spark of Life Philosophy through ‘hard’ scientific facts.’

~Christine M. Merzeder (Formerly Monkhouse) Swiss IAHSA Board & Jury

The following is a summary of some of the research evidence to date.

  1. An overview of the journey for Mercy Parklands in Auckland to become the world first Spark of Life Centre of Excellence and a description of some of their outcomes is illustrated in this extract from the Australian Journal of Dementia Care 2016:
Positive Outcomes of Spark of Life

“Since introducing the Spark of Life Philosophy in 2010 we have demonstrated positive outcomes for our residents, including those with dementia, staff and families across a range of areas as a direct result of the philosophy. These include an exceptional reduction in falls, an ability to systematically dissolve distressed behaviours in a sustainable and lasting way, residents experiencing rehabilitation and rementia, staff being empowered and revitalised, and appreciation from families. 

Club program benefits: Within weeks of starting the club program for residents with dementia we started to see positive outcomes with the awakening of dormant abilities, such as language and movement, and noticeable improvements in individuals’ level of communication ability and behaviour, both during the club sessions and at other times. Residents with dementia who did not normally communicate verbally started talking or interacting in other ways; we saw improvement in functional ability – residents who would normally sit passively were now picking up finger food, pouring tea for each other (we enabled this by having a number of small teapots that residents could manage independently, instead of one large, heavy pot), passing around the cake, and picking up and looking at things.

Previously, we had not been giving people the opportunity to use dormant abilities and when we set up the environment and activities in a way that enabled them to do things we found those abilities had more potential to come to the fore.

Reduction in distressed behaviour: From 2009 the median incidence of residents’ distressed behaviour has reduced by 35.7% with the Spark of Life Philosophy being the key factor. For the past three years Mercy Parklands has been able to retain all residents with distressed behaviours, where in the past some have had to be transferred to external secure dementia units. Also, there has been no significant incidents of distressed behaviour for the past 12 months in the dementia-specific (non-secure) area.

Reduction in falls: Our falls prevention program uses the Spark of Life principles as the framework, with a significant decrease in falls since 2009. There has been a 48.6% decrease in the median incidence of falls, with a 58% decrease in falls with serious harm from 2014 to 2015. In 2013, our facility was chosen by the New Zealand Health Quality and Safety Commission to feature in a series of educational DVDs on falls prevention.

Resident satisfaction: In a 2015 internal resident satisfaction survey, the Spark of Life clubs were rated 87.5% important and enjoyable (the top rating) by residents who responded to that question. In a specific Spark of Life resident satisfaction questionnaire in August 2013, the residents were asked to score between 0 and 5 (5 being the highest) on five questions, which included whether they felt loved and understood, valued, needed and useful and joyful. The overall average score on the five questions from 50 residents was 86% scoring 3 or over.

Family satisfaction: In an independent report by Press Ganey (a company specialising in health care satisfaction and improvement in New Zealand and Australia) containing data from 36 Mercy Parklands residents’ families from an August 2015 survey, we scored 87.2 which was higher than the previous year. The activities at Mercy Parklands scored higher than 99% of the other facilities in the database, with Spark of Life Club facilitators and the clubs receiving positive comments in the survey feedback.

Staff satisfaction: The Spark of Life Philosophy has increased staff knowledge and skills and improved staff confidence and competence in finding alternative solutions to meeting residents’ needs and reducing distressed behaviour. A 2013 independent staff satisfaction survey by Press Ganey showed that Mercy Parklands’ overall mean score was in the 91st percentile nationally. Our staff retention score was 8.8 (a score between 1-10 indicates strong loyalty and limited staff turnover expected in the next 12 months).”

Editorial by the Australian Journal of Dementia Care Team (April 2016). Igniting the Spark of Life. Australian Journal of Dementia Care. http://journalofdementiacare.com/igniting-the-spark-of-life/

  1. In the article, Igniting the Spirit of Those with Dementia, benefits of the Spark of Life Philosophy at two different aged care centres in New Zealand are described.

O’Connor, T. (November 2015). Igniting the Spirit of Those with Dementia. Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand. Vol. 21, no 10, pp 14 – 15.

  1. In the book, Dementia beyond Drugs,  Dr. G. Allen Power MD, FACP observed that the impact of the Spark of Life Club Program was facilitating rementia (recovery of lost abilities when the social and emotional environment becomes more supportive and understanding).

Power, G. A (2011). Dementia Beyond Drugs, Changing the Culture of Care. Health Professions Press. Maryland. USA

  1. A report for the Australian Accreditation Newsletter in July 2009 found that the Culture Enrichment Program led to improvement in residents function, wellbeing and social skills, with benefits in enriching the staff culture, which has seen the home become a preferred employer. In addition the staff had been reinvigorated and new insights and skills were gained into how to cope with the challenges and stresses experienced in Aged Care. Positive outcomes were reported from the residents having participated in the Spark of Life Club Program and were demonstrated through the use of the Creative Expressive Abilities Assessment Tool and the Bradford Well-Being Profile.

The Standard (July 2009), Spark of Life Wins International Recognition for Brightening Up Lives. Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency Ltd, Parramatta, New South Wales. p 2-3.

  1. In July 2009, The Spark of Life Culture Enrichment Program was awarded the 2009/2010 IAHSA Excellence in Ageing Services Award for its whole systems approach and for being a model of innovation, creativity and excellence.
  2. A quality assurance report from Rockhampton in Queensland discussed the relationship between the reduction in falls and the Spark of Life Program.

Quality Performance Systems (2008). A Spark of Life is Igniting Rockhampton Aged Care. Vol. 31 P 4-7. . https://www.qpsbenchmarking.com/news/the-spark-of-life-approach-from-dementia-care-australia/

  1. An International Best Practice Evaluation of the Culture Enrichment Program is now being implemented in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Initial findings provided in a report by Lee, 2008, demonstrated that the culture enrichment program encourages flexibility and willingness to work beyond boundaries resulting in satisfied and energized teams, and raised standard of care.

Lee, H. (2008). Evaluation of the Spark of Life Culture Enrichment program. Independent post-thesis report supported by Dr Angelica Orb, Curtin University of Technology.

  1. In 2008, a study by Gottlieb-Tanaka, Lee and Graf at the University of British Columbia, Canada, led to the development of the Creative-Expressive Abilities Assessment (CEAA) Tool. The Spark of Life Club Program was selected as a quality creative expression program for observation in the study. The club members observed in this study scored highly in all domains of the CEAA tool, including memory, language, psychosocial skills, reasoning, expression of emotions and culture.

Gottlieb-Tanaka, D., Lee, H. & Graf, P. (2008). The Creative-Expressive Abilities Assessment User Guide, ArtScience Press, Vancouver, Canada.

  1. A qualitative study using in-depth interviews from Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia, examined the perceptions of carers and families of the impact of the Spark of Life Club Program on the personal and emotional wellbeing of people with dementia.

The research identified that the participants in the club program, who were observed, experienced overall improvement. Even those who were thought lost to this world came out of their shell and reconnected with the world around them.

Lee, H. (2007) Masters in Science (research). Thesis: The Impact of the Spark of Life Program on the Personal and Emotional Wellbeing of People with Dementia: Carer’s and Families Perceptions. Curtin University of Technology, Perth.

  1. In Wisconsin, USA, the Spark of Life Club Program has been endorsed as recommended best practice both by the Wisconsin Adult Day Services Association (WASDA) and in a collaborative study between the Wisconsin Bureau of Aging and disability resources and the Wisconsin Office of Quality Assurance.

Wisconsin State-wide Advisory Committee on Quality of Life Outcomes for People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (2004). Quality of Life Outcomes for People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia. Wisconsin Bureau of Ageing and Long Term Care Resources, Federal Administration on Ageing Alzheimer’s Demonstration Grant.



For the Person with Dementia

People with dementia can experience profound benefits from the implementation of the Spark of Life Philosophy through the people around them:

  • Their spirit can be reignited, joy, zest for life and the will to live can be restored.
  • They can experience rementia (the recovery of lost abilities through the social and emotional environment becoming more understanding and supportive.)
  • Their emotional needs can be met bringing meaning and purpose back in their lives.

Watch as Rita recovers her dormant language in a beautiful interaction with Jane Verity

Watch Ces who had dementia and had not spoken for 12 months begin to speak again and engage with others around him through the Spark of Life Club Program

For Families

Families benefit from the education in the profound understanding they gain and the skills they learn.

Families whose relatives with dementia live in residential care experience an extra benefit of peace of mind knowing their loved one is treated with empathy and compassion.

The following are quotes and video testimonials from family members:

‘You have switched on a light at the end of what was a long dark tunnel. Actually, I feel like you have switched on the lights along the tunnel too, as I feel empowered now to deal with the challenges each day brings.’

~ Cheryl Dufty, Family Carer

‘The techniques I have learned are really going to change my coping mechanisms, my whole outlook, my relationship with my mother, my children and my partner. It is like a golden bridge back into my life.’

~ Sally Harding, Family Carer


Watch Del as she shares her joy of what it meant to her to experience her husband Ces regaining his ability to talk through the Spark of Life Philosophy.

Watch Claire Hoole speak about the impact a Spark of Life Community Presentation had on her and her mum in how they were able to re-connect with her dad.

For Organisations

There are 4 key areas in which an organisation can benefit from implementing the Spark of Life Culture Enrichment Program:

  1. Occupational Health and Safety & Human Resources

A team that has been educated in the 3-day Spark of Life Certified Practitioner Course by their Master Practitioner has the skills to:

  • Contribute to a safe work environment through preventing and solving challenging behaviours.
  • Contribute to daily job satisfaction through the rewarding experience of seeing positive results of their personal interaction with their residents, clients or patients and through experiencing an appreciative culture.
  1. Care Culture

A team that is empowered and appreciated through the Spark of Life Culture Enrichment Program has:

  • A compassionate and inclusive culture
  • A desire to work beyond boundaries
  • A focus on the positive and on solutions
  1. Cost Savings

The implementation of the Spark of Life Culture Enrichment Program translates to cost savings in the following areas:

  • Retention of staff
  • Reduction in absenteeism
  • Less time spent on managing complaints and challenging behaviours
  • Reduced need for medication
  • Reduced cost associated with falls and injuries
  1. Reputation

Achieving recognition as a Spark of Life Centre of Excellence enables an organisation to be:

  • A preferred employer due to the reputation of enhanced staff satisfaction
  • A preferred care provider due to enhanced reputation within the local community for having an excellent standard of emotional care of their residents and clients, acknowledged and commended in government audits and reports.