Two participants on the Whitworth's Beyond Dementia project

The Whitworth, Manchester

Wendy Gallagher, 16.04.2018
Using art to improve the quality of life of those living with dementia
The primary aim of Beyond Dementia at the Whitworth, part of the University of Manchester, is to support and promote active citizenship for people living with dementia, while raising awareness of the day-to-day issues they face and dispel many of the myths surrounding the disease.

It explores how viewing and making art can be a powerful way of connecting with self, forging meaningful connections with others, and improving the general wellbeing of those living with the condition and their carers.

There are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, with numbers predicted to rise to more than 1 million by 2025, which is why it is imperative that we seek to find new ways, not only of treating dementia, but improving the quality of life of those living with a diagnosis.

When we speak of dementia we often speak of loss: the loss of memory, the decline in physical functioning, and the progressive loss of self. This view can lead to a further and more problematic loss, the loss of voice, as the stories of people living with dementia are too often ignored.  

Beyond Dementia is an engagement programme of creative activities that last year resulted in an exhibition that brought together the words and stories of a group people living with dementia along with artworks they had produced and a display they curated from the Whitworth’s art collection.

The exhibition was accompanied with a full public programme of activities for all our visitors.

This is a partnership programme with the Fabulous Forgetful Friends from Together Dementia Support. Together we planned, co-produced and co-curated the programme and exhibition.

Top Tips from The Fabulous Forgetful friends

  • Don’t say “remember when…”
  • Don’t say we are “demented”, “losing the plot”, “not all there”, “on another planet”, or call people “victims” or “sufferers”.
  • Do not talk to us as if we were children.
  • Do not under estimate what we are capable of.
  • Do not remind us of the death of loved ones.
  • Only give the help that people ask for not what you think they need.
  • Be patient with us, it may take us longer to do things.
  • Allow us to answer for ourselves.
  • Don’t talk about me to other people, in front of me.
  • Don’t tell me that I don’t look or sound like I have dementia.
  • If I struggle finding the correct words or can’t speak don’t assume I can’t communicate.
  • Don’t remind me that I’ve already ask you or told you something.
  • Don’t tell me I’m wrong, correct me or argue with me, particularly over trivial things.
  • Treat me the way you would like to be treated.

Wendy Gallagher is the arts and health manager at the Whitworth in Manchester. Beyond Dementia has published a Handbook for Cultural Engagement with People Living with Dementia