This week is Dementia Awareness Week where hundreds of events have been taking place up and down the country to teach people about the terrible disease and to fundraise for the Alzheimer’s Society. The theme of this year’s awareness week is Do Something New; as Dementia shouldn’t stop you doing what you love or experiencing new things. The Alzheimer’s Society is encouraging all it’s supporters to #DoSomethingNew this Dementia Awareness Week and there are a range of fun ideas to get your imagination flowing on their website.
At the Maltings, we run the arts & elders project; a series of regular events for Alzheimer’s sufferers and their carers to encourage them to try new activities and to not give up on doing the things they love. We have been able to sit down with the arts & elders project co-ordinator, Kath Boddy to see what new events are coming later in the year.
Tell us about Arts & Elders and why it started?
Arts & Elders is the umbrella name for our activities for the over 65s. It began in 2014 (as Mindfull Maltings) and to date we have delivered Singing for the Brain sessions, offered specially designed Museum tours, hosted a Tea Dance and relaxed cinema screenings, all aimed at people with dementia and their carers.
How did you get involved with the project?
By chance, I was working here in the Craft Team when personal circumstances meant I had to reduce my working week, this opportunity came up and as I’m no stranger to taking on new projects, I decided to go for it. It’s been a steep learning curve but the work is so important to get right and there is a genuine appetite and a clear need that makes the job very satisfying.
Why is Dementia Awareness Week so important?
It’s important for people to talk about a disease which carries such fear with it. It’s still culturally acceptable to ‘hold things in’ to ‘button up’ and ‘soldier on’ but none of this will help anyone who is worried about an illness in themselves or others. By sharing experience, seeking help and support, those with dementia and their carers can enjoy a better life for longer. DAW shines a light on all of the support and strategies available; both for survival through medical help and for essential wellbeing through arts groups such as those we offer at the Maltings.
DAW also addresses the community at large and its acceptance of those with dementia. We have a need to understand the people around us; from people in the street, friends, neighbours and family. If someone we know has dementia and we come to understand their needs through awareness campaigns such as this, we are better equipped to keep communication open and meaningful. It can be very stressful for all parties to not understand a situation and we can all learn to do this better.
Who comes to the events and what do they do?
Our current season of Singing for the Brain is attended by people in different stages of dementia. They are accompanied most often by family members, siblings, sons & daughters, partners, or by their carers. We have a soft start from 1.30pm with free tea, coffee and biscuits along with the chance to chat among friends or with one of the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Navigators and find a place to sit. At 2pm our trained singing leader Barbara Rayner and dedicated volunteers begin with warm up exercises for the voice and body. There then follows an hour of songs – some old favourites, some new and catchy. There are sometimes tongue twisters or singing rounds. She’ll often follow a theme such as Easter, St George’s Day or, more recently, the VE Day celebrations – complete with costumes and bunting, all of which help build a fun and friendly environment.
Particularly for people with dementia, singing and listening to music can improve mood, orientation, and memory for those with dementia and provide wellbeing benefits for carers (Cognitive, Emotional and Social Benefits of Regular Musical Activities in Early Dementia; Randomized Controlled Study, Sӓrkӓmӧ T1, Tervaniemi M, Laitinen S, Numminen A, Kurki M, Johnson JK, Rantanen P. University of Helsinki, 2013).
What is your favourite moment from the project so far
I’m invariably moved by the change in people – both those with dementia and their carers – when I compare the before and after. Just an hour of friendly, familiar singing leaves our participants walking slightly taller, a degree brighter with mild bewilderment or reticence replaced by smiles and soft chat. It’s a beautiful thing to see and the feedback we’ve had is that this happiness is sustained for days after.
What events are coming up in the project?
For those with dementia and their carers Singing for the Brain sessions will become weekly with the first Monday of every month showing relaxed musical films (this autumn dedicated to Surrey’s very own Julie Andrews).
In October 2015 we launch an exciting new strand called Meet Me at the Maltings aimed at redressing loneliness and isolation among the over 65s in our community. These will be weekly arts activities with lunch and singing on Thursdays 10-2.30pm. Each month will link to a theme: October to Farnham Craft Month with pottery, crochet, knitting and other craft. November is dedicated to the written and spoken word, with poetry, printmaking and bookbinding. In December it’s about hunkering down, shared warmth, theatre, food and the art of conversation.
On 7th December we’ll be holding A Big Tea Dance for Everyone – to bring together participants from all our groups, their families of all ages as well as the wider community. Other than that, it’s fundraising for 2016!
Next up on the arts & elders programme is the museum tour at the Museum of Farnham on Fri 05 June and Singing for the Brain on Mon 08 June. Find out more details here.