Gosh! The pilot ‘arts in the community’ project which I have been co-facilitating is drawing to a close. I have been holding creative/art making space for people living with dementia (LWD) and socially isolated elderly people for the past three months. I have been the lead artist in the group for people LWD. What a huge learning curve it has been. Neither my partner nor I had ever been around people LWD. On the first session, one of the participants kept weeping and wandering and at the end of the session, we thought, ‘What on earth have we embarked upon?’
Well, after attending a couple of workshops on dementia awareness and arts for dementia and reading several books, web pages and academic articles, I have a pretty good understanding of it. However, the people living with the symptoms of dementia have taught me the most about what it is to live with dementia. I have learned that dementia manifests differently in each individual. A quote I read somewhere sums it up best:
With dementia, a person loses many of the windows through which they can relate to the world and people around them. However, it is possible to connect with the light that still shines through. The essential person is still there.
That has been the focus for me. To find the light and make the connection. The woman who was so distressed on the first day, gradually became more comfortable. While she may not remember what the content of each session is, the good feelings sparked by being there linger on.
I came across Cognitive Stimulation Therapy which provides a range of enjoyable activities providing general stimulation for thinking, concentration and memory, usually in a social setting. I decided to combine this with art making activity. For our 90 minute sessions we have a schedule of singing, poems & word games or picture/objects to stimulate memory and conversation, chair exercises, an art activity, show & tell and tea, coffee and biscuits.
Because a person LWD has lost many of their ‘executive functions’ eg, attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem solving, and planning, I have found that activities based in the moment, process oriented with no set outcome work the best.
By a happy choice, I took my button box in one day.
S, the woman who was very distressed on day one, put her hands straight into the pile. I had drawn concentric circles on a sheet of paper and we selected and placed buttons and buckles, happily absorbed for the session.
The next time, I took a jar of game counters.
They spilled onto the table with an agreeable sound.
I had never examined them so closely.
We found a mother o’ pearl disc with intricate carving on each side.
S said, ‘That’s quite a special one’. So we put it in the centre of our mandala.
Today, I took in Scrabble tiles and Lexicon playing cards. Lots of good things happened with these. S and I sorted out the Scrabble tiles and began with ‘owl’ which led to the poem The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear. We could only remember the first four lines though! When her husband came to collect her, he said that they used to drive past a roadside cafe called The Owl and the Pussycat.
J spelled out several words with the Lexicon cards.
Then she and my colleague Lucy composed a poem with them.
When S and I finished with the tiles, she said ‘Let’s see what else you have’. I emptied my bag of beautiful, smooth beach glass that I collected in the surf behind a glass factory in Murano, Italy.
These were a pleasure to handle and sort.
This has been an incredible journey for me. I’m a bit sad that the pilot project is drawing to a close, but very hopeful that we will be able to secure funding to continue.
I am going on a course to become a Cognitive Stimulation Therapy practitioner at University College London this summer. It is exciting to have found a new area of interest, learning and work to embark upon. The journey continues!