Thinking about these emerging principles from all of the Dementia Friendly Communities funded by Life Changes Trust, plus the lovely opportunity to meet and chat with Anna Buchanan, who visited us this week, I wanted to draw some thoughts together with the words of people enjoying this project.
Anna and I discussed how at times, national politics can seem very far removed from a crofting life here on the Western Isles but that the voices of the people living with dementia here and those who care, are every bit as important as the voices of people who wish to and can manage to attend cross party groups etc. at the Scottish Parliament.
Many people that we work with here have no physical voice but we do communicate well through many artistic forms of self expression, physical and facial movement, expressions and pointing, smiles, a squeeze of a hand and occasionally a hand made duff, a salsa shimmy, a rousing chorus of Ballach an Iasgaidh or a deftly tied reef knot.
Many people living with dementia here do have a voice but actually would rather not trek to Edinburgh to sit around a table at Holyrood, the local environment is much preferred and for whom speaking at the Scottish Parliament sounds a bit too daunting.
So, how do we share the voices, wishes, thoughts and struggles of people right here?
At An Lanntair, we have been working across the community offering arts, cultural and heritage opportunities through one to one and small group sessions, based on requests from the community and needs expressed by the community for resources and people to work with. These arts opportunities have offered means of communication – arts as a language in itself. But we have also found that offering opportunities to relax, gather together, be playful and try new things as well as rediscovering things from the past actually frees up speech and movement to become more easily communicated.
This communication has been shared by creating memory boxes together, of preferred activities and items to touch, hold, smell, pass around and discuss. It has been shared through this blog, on social media and at conferences. It has been used to direct and shape the project.
And what about the very clear voices, which are able to communicate?
‘I love coming here, coming here is better than the doctors.’
‘I could do this every day.’
‘I live alone, you see.’
‘Why don’t we have a duff day?’
‘I can’t explain it, I just feel better making things with my hands.’
‘Great afternoon, my Mother loved it!’
‘Well, I didn’t think I’d ever dance again!’
‘Great craic, lovely lunch, I even got some stitching done amidst the hilarity!’
‘I never thought I’d see this shore again, I can’t believe I’m here.’(on a photography walk)
‘I don’t know what the news was but it must have been good!’(referring to the scale of the ceilidh celebration)
This absolutely highlights the value of some of the above principles.
A social model – How are we supported within our community?
Assets based – Living a full life and celebrating what we can do.
A significant say – People with dementia and carers direct this project with feedback, requests, working together and creating resources and art together.
Enabling people with dementia and carers to do what matters to them – have a look at the comments above.
It has been so helpful to be part of the network of DFC awardees through Life Changes Trust because we learn so much from each other. It is reassuring to see that the paths that we are naturally following as a project and as a community are in line with the paths other projects are following, through their own experiences. It has also been very reassuring to know that the thoughts, wishes, struggles and triumphs of people right here are being added collectively to the feedback and communication from everyone else across Scotland to create an impactful evaluation of this work from the past three years, which can be used to improve circumstances for all of the communities .