Using memories to help those suffering from dementia

Members of Horsforth Live at Home Scheme Carole Abel, Margaret Roberts, Freda Stamford, Marjorie Thorpe and Audrey Nicholson
Members of Horsforth Live at Home Scheme Carole Abel, Margaret Roberts, Freda Stamford, Marjorie Thorpe and Audrey Nicholson
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Projects from across Leeds are helping to evoke memories for thousands of people who are coping with the daily struggle of living with dementia. Laura Bowyer reports.

IT is a heartbreaking condition that can rob couples of their precious time together. Not only can it steal a person’s identity – it can ultimately steal their dignity.

Thousands of pensioners across Leeds are caught in the grips of dementia. And not only can it be isolating for the person who has been diagnosed with the condition, it can also have a huge impact on their nearest and dearest.

It’s often left to their husbands and wives to pick up the pieces when their loved ones’ memories start to fade.

But one Leeds group is harnessing the power of music to help people come to terms of living with dementia. Classic songs from British comic George Formby and Bing Crosby are helping couples to reconnect as they take a trip down memory lane.

Horsforth Live at Home’s ReminiSING group love nothing better than raising the roof at their Central Methodist Church base.

Tracy Brierley, manager at Horsforth Live at Home Scheme, says dementia is not only isolating for the person who has been diagnosed with it, but also for their carer.

“They are in that situation 24/7. But in just the space of an hour-and-a-half those carers leave with a smile on their face and they chat with other people who are in the same situation as them.

“It is just amazing to sit there and watch the group. It is almost like you see something recaptured there for them during that session.

“We have one lady who was new to the group and her brother brought her in. She was soon singing the words off by heart and she never even needed to use her song sheet. That was just amazing.”

They found out from her brother that she had always loved singing. “Unfortunately her dementia had stopped her coming to some of the other activities we have and we had not seen her in a while. But now she has started to come back and that is great.

Horsforth is one of three places in the Leeds area, the others being Rothwell and Otley, that have been singled out and praised for their dementia friendly efforts.

It’s important work in an ongoing battle. The latest figures show there are 8,600 people Leeds diagnosed with dementia and nearly one-third of people who are suffering from the condition are living on their own.

But it is not just the power of song that helps carers and their loved ones to reconnect and share their memories.

Many of the city’s neighbourhood networks also run a range of support sessions for people with dementia and memory problems.

Leeds-based Care and Repair have recently established a Reminiscence Library to help evoke memories.

Photographs of former sporting champions, ration books and old games are just some of the images in their archives to help get conversations started.

The library, which was funded by a £20,000 grant from Leeds Community Foundation, has helped families to reconnect and it looks set to be rolled out across the city.

Lisa Stones from Care and Repair says it does make a difference.

“It just helps as a prompt to start a conversation again that is not about medication or asking them if they’ve had their dinner or tea. It is something fun to help families re-engage with that person.”

Dementia is an unforgiving illness but Stones believes we can make people’s lives more comfortable. “It can completely change the personality of someone but this just helps to give someone the confidence they need to start a conversation again with their loved ones and that is very important,” she says.

“It can be lovely for the person with dementia but also for their carer. We want to help them get that conversation back even if it is just for a few minutes.”