People living with dementia unite in creative art

Verd de Gris Dementia Therapy session 30 July 2013'Photo by Paula Solloway/
Verd de Gris Dementia Therapy session 30 July 2013'Photo by Paula Solloway/

Creative arts sessions are helping people with dementia in Calderdale to fight back against the condition.

The sessions, run by Hebden Bridge-based company Verd de Gris, feature a core of eight people who have dementia taking part in weekly meetings which involve art, poetry and music.

The not-for-profit organisation, run by Jeff Turner and Sharon Marsden, has been working with living with dementia for more than 10 years but this is the first time they’ve run weekly sessions.

The project is funded by Creative Minds, part of South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and Calderdale Health & Well-being Grants through the Community Foundation for Calderdale, and has been awarded funding to allow them to continue the work throughout next year.

Sharon, who leads the sessions, said: “We try and change people’s perceptions of dementia.

“Families can really struggle when their relative has been recently diagnosed as they often don’t know where to get tailored activities that will give them some support.

“A lot of family members come to the sessions too. It’s very uplifting for them as they can see their family member enjoying the session. It’s really moving. Getting them to express those emotions is really vital.

“Creativity and emotional connections are the key.

“What we’re trying to do is get that information out there that there are these sessions they can get involved in.

“It’s such a terrible condition that people have to live with.

“The disorientation and anxiety they suffer is awful but there are amazing things that people can still do.

“The sessions help bring joy in that moment for them, which is so important.

“It’s one arm of our work that we keep going back to. The themes are often the landscape that surrounds us as it’s something that everybody can connect with.

“We include a range of activities involving, poetry, singing and art

“More and more of our work is about bringing something new that people can do.

“I teach songs to the group and they can remember them. I sang a song I hadn’t sung for two months recently and they remembered it, which is extraordinary.

“One woman hadn’t read anything for five years, she couldn’t even recognise words on the page.

“I’d just read the words and she would close her eyes and nod along. But the next week she read one word and then three or four weeks later she was reading the whole poem.

“What we’re doing is pretty innovative but we’re going to learn a lot more in the coming years about what’s happening in people’s brains.”

As well as working with people living with dementia, Sharon involves primary school pupils in the workshops to enhance understanding and awareness of the condition. Year Four pupils at Burnley Road Academy have been taking part.

“We want people to understand the condition, which can be difficult to do with eight or nine-year-olds,” says Sharon.

“I use the metaphor of doors being closed in your head and an old, rusty key isn’t working.

“But if you use a shiny, new key it can open those doors - that is what work with dementia is about.

“Another metaphor I use with the children is being lost, and they came up with a design of a compass with words woven into it that could help people suffering with the condition.

“The level of empathy and understanding from those little children was just amazing.

“Family members feel more uncomfortable taking their relative out and about when their condition deteriorates. But we also teach the children to be more accepting and understanding if they were to encounter a dementia sufferer who did or said something unpredictable.”

The Creative Dementia sessions are free and run every Tuesday afternoon between 2.30pm and 4pm at Hebden Bridge Town Hall.

For information on the sessions or volunteering phone Sharon on 07598 387772.