Background

I entered into a journey that connected with the notion of lived human experience, and to objects that mark out significant life events.

Through the passage of time, life becomes history, stories fade and become forgotten and objects represent a tangible means to fix memory onto history and speak of lives lived, with even the cheapest of souvenirs offering a potent reminder. Such memories make us who we are and give us a sense of our time and place. But crucially, for us all memory can prove to be elusive, confuse facts and shift with time. Cultural pressures to remember have given us unrealistic expectations as to how memory should work, we tax our memories to the limit at a time when we are living longer and anxiety about our overworked memories leads us to fear memory loss. Neurologist, psychologist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, even suggests that we have an innate fear of meaninglessness*. Memory loss is one of the most terrifying aspects of a for an individual diagnosed with dementia, and the fear, stereotypes and stigma surrounding dementia make the experience of the disease worse than it needs to be.

Dementia has always been and may always be a frightening experience for those who experience the disease and their families who care for them. Medical science may provide the prospect of a cure, but meanwhile dementia is a growing issue for our aging society with predictions that the numbers of people affected by dementia will range from 11 million to 16 million by 2050. Culturally our fear of dementia leads us to see it as a death sentence and the dread and stigma surrounding Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in its most prominent form, contribute significantly to the difficult conditions of living with it. Through changes to our attitudes we can reduce this fear and find meaning within the disease experience.

This research has intended to connect with people who are experiencing dementia, and to create tools to be used to improve their lives and all of those who care for them. The focus is to create objects that promote interaction; a creative, in the moment engagement, that looks past an individuals memory loss and develops and connects with their remaining skills. The aim is to provide a model for people experiencing dementia, for their loved ones who may struggle to find ways to be in their company, and additionally to professional caregivers. A model that gives rise to the opportunity for all to express themselves and to promote these relationships, that assume their ability to grow and respond in ways that move through fear. This programme based upon a collaborative enterprise with Arts for Health at MMU has provided the opportunity to work with people who are at quite advanced stages of the journey of dementia and to design experiences for them that create meaning in their lives and promote openings for facilitating communication and interaction in new and innovative ways.

* According to Frankl, in Mans search for Meaning (1962). The fear of death and memory loss exacerbate the social conditions of living with dementia, leading to isolation, stress and depression.

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