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Reconnecting to someone with dementia through the arts

A guest blog from Alison Stewart, intern at the Northampton Filmhouse and the Royal & Derngate. Her focus has been on reaching people living with dementia and their companions.

Northampton Filmhouse is proud to have won the Dementia Friendly Organisation Award presented by the University of Northampton and awarded by an esteemed panel of dementia care experts, including Dr Hilda Hayo, Chief Admiral Nurse and CEO at Dementia UK. The award includes the services of a University of Northampton intern to support and develop a dementia-friendly schedule at Northampton Filmhouse and the Royal & Derngate. I am delighted to be that intern and my focus has been on reaching people living with dementia and their companions, networking and researching good practice with a specific interest in the arts.

Regular events and classes for people facing dementia

I’ve seen some amazing work across the UK where theatres, cinemas, museums and art galleries are delivering a regular programme of high-quality events and classes for people facing dementia. The message is coming across loud and clear that we must raise expectations and that the dreaded diagnosis should not mark the end of identity, vast life experience or ability to enjoy new skills. I witnessed my mum’s terrible struggle with mixed dementia and this only fuels my passion to ensure people feel less isolated and more empowered. I’ve experienced the frustration and helplessness of supporting my mum and chatted with other exhausted spouses and children. One recently said to me: “I’m becoming a prisoner in my own home.”

Dementia-friendly screenings

It feels inadequate at first to offer the arts to people who have so much to contend with but there is increasing evidence that people living with dementia and those who support them are finding relief and experiencing in-the-moment joy by reconnecting through the arts. Dementia-friendly screenings are aimed to include people living with dementia and their companions. Word is spreading over Northamptonshire and in the week of writing this we screened The Young Ones with lights on throughout and an interval half way through the film.

Relax and socialise

Front of house staff welcomed patrons with complimentary cups of tea and biscuits before the film began, aiming to help them relax and socialise. Leaving the house and getting into town can be a mammoth task for people facing dementia and for those who support them but it was a pleasure to see new and familiar faces. Some of us have been discussing the choice of films and there is still as much variety in taste as for any audience. Musicals are popular but I’ve received requests for new releases and cowboy films. After watching The Young Ones I was told: “This was a new experience for us. The seats were so comfortable and we started to recall some of the old songs.”

Working together to make a dementia-friendly community

I have met some wonderfully active people who are eager to make Northamptonshire dementia-friendly and I hope we will come together during Dementia Action Week (20-26 May) to share in that vision. Admiral Nurses have offered us their invaluable support and we look forward to showing the award winning short film Together Again in the future: for me, the motivational message is in the title. No-one should face dementia alone.