Dementia can be difficult for people to understand as it's a condition that's hard to define," said Ruth Gidley, Programme Director for the Living Each Season, dementia-friendly art sessions.

"It affects people in different ways. Some have lowered inhibitions, some have affected vision, some become disoriented. We just need to look to how people are feeling and be kind and patient and respectful, which is how we'd all like to be treated.

Participants from Westbanks Memory Cafes were invited to attend a session which focussed on the winter season, sharing stories about the past and observations about weather today.  "Today we went in to the stores and each person was able to paint a pottery tile with inspiration from Dutch delftware, Chinese ceramics, and blue willow patterns. It's something they can keep on talking about after, as they can take home the art they produce and show to their friends".  The next session on March 23 will focus on spring. 

Ruth says that the activity days aim to work in three ways. They want to reach out to carers, to people of all ages and backgrounds, and to get participants using all their senses.  She said "A lot of people find their world gets smaller when diagnosed, so the social side of it is really enjoyable to get to learn something new".

She said: "Once people are here we don't talk about dementia and we treat everyone the same. We've had great feedback from it. One carer said once, 'I forgot I was a carer, I felt like myself.' We had another man write to us, who said that his wife is less confused after the sessions.

"It helps them to connect with things and it's a very good grounding experience to help you in the present. So this, it turns out, is a place where, especially if you're living with dementia, you can be part of the public and have topical discussions and not feel pushed aside. It's very healthy for people to be engaged in debates and remember what they can do".

She added: "It was really moving to see at this session, people lighting up and having a good time, having something new to do. We often assume that people with dementia must have routine, but we all enjoy our brain being able to go down a new path.

Ruth Gidley is one of the designers of the programme with a staff of freelancers and volunteers.

The monthly sessions cost £15 per couple and individuals must be accompanied by a carer; the first visit is free.  It is essential to book in advance, from RAMM online, on the phone or at reception.

The next session on March 23 will be a gallery tour and on April 22 there will be a chance to handle museum objects related to the season of spring.

For more information about the Westbank Memory Cafes

Please contact Vicky Hutchinson about the Pinhoe and St Thomas Memory Cafes on tel: 07736 222505

Email: [email protected]

Please contact Jan Bourne about the Exminster and St James Memory Cafes on tel: 07877 123646

Email: [email protected]

Or contact a member of the Volunteering Team at Westbank on tel: 01392 824752

Photo credit: (c) 2016 Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter City Council. Photographer: Matt Austin.