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Wednesday 23 August 9.00am repeated 9.30pm
Mariella Frostrup talks to leading scientists and artists to find out how your memory works.
What happens when memory starts to degenerate? Why do some forms of memory seem more fragile than others and can anything be done to prevent or at least slow the seemingly inevitable slide towards oblivion experienced by so many sufferers of dementia?
Mariella's guests are actor Harriet Walter, who lost both parents to dementia, scientists Dr Kim Graham of the MRC and Professor Michael Kopelman, and David Clegg who uses sound and music to help people with dementia - The Trebus Projects.
Also this week, BBC Radio 4's Check Up programme, presented by Barbara Myers is all about MCI - Mild Cognitive Impairment. Barbara and her guest Professor Roy Jones, will be taking your calls on Thursday aftenoon from 3.00pm
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Firstly the point that when I began working in the field I had no direct experience of working with dementia. This is absolutely true but as I believe I mentioned in the programme it did not present a problem, in fact it opened a number of opportunities. Prior to this time I’d spent more than ten years as an art teacher, mainly at university level. Since starting work in the field some seven years ago I’ve worked hands on with well over 1000 people in the community, in nursing homes and in hospitals. In 2003 my work featured on the front cover of the Sunday Times Magazine, in a well-received exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London, on the front cover of the Journal of Dementia Care and picked up a N.I.A.C.E award for education. Bringing new learning into Care Homes. There have since been another three awards with one of my projects being promoted as an example of ‘excellence’ in the field by Westminster Council. Not exactly inexperienced any more I hope you agree?
I would say that I firmly believe a good knowledge of the subject is valuable but I also have numerous examples of training limiting the options available. My approach has always been that I didn’t and don’t have all the answers. I believe dementia effects each person differently and we should learn from them and their relatives to find appropriate ways of working rather than fit each to a pre-conceived therapeutic model, which unfortunately I still see from the majority of qualified therapists. Where it’s appropriate I’ve gone to specialists to bring in the very best advice I can. In the last few years this has meant we’ve brought musicians, composers, writers, artists, filmmakers and numerous others to work in sessions with care staff and qualified nurses. We had one of our residents coaching boxing to youngs lads at a gym as he'd done some fifty years before. Residents and their families are 100% behind this approach, they’ve seen actual benefits whether it’s simply that more people are involved, mobile and active or simply that the home is a more vibrant and fun place to be, it shouldn’t be underestimated.
The comment about the ‘lady hitting my guitar with a hammer’ is exactly what happened and it is on the face of it humourous. I firmly believe laughter is an important part of dementia care, many of the people I work with laugh throughout our sessions. I’ve also seen excellent committed carers absolutely burnt out by an overly serious moralising approach. The opportunity to work with someone with dementia is a major responsibility and I’ve always placed the issue of representation at the top of the agenda. Part of the reason for working to release books, records and produce exhibitions has always been to bring the condition to a wider public in an honest and open way, as it still remains a hidden and illness. We've been extremly successful in doing this. As I mentioned in the programme the lady’s daughter was delighted by the sessions and often joined in and we would talk through the work in exactly this way. The truth is the humour involved allowed her to see her mum positively for the first time in several years. Re the comment about what this activity implies; this is a fair point about which I would have enjoyed covering into in greater depth.
As I mentioned earlier I don’t believe there is one correct answer or approach to dementia care, I certainly seen some abysmal qualified music therapists, some actually working with my own mother who is now resident in a care home (she’s said she finds the sessions patronising and childish), and some who are excellent. My approach is simply a way giving new appropriate opportunities using a wider range of techniques than had been previously available. In the last seven years we have always had a far longer waiting list than we were able to fill, residents have wanted to take part.
Dr. Wendy Magee