Sheffield brothers taking creative approach to dealing with dementia

Two brothers who lost their mum to dementia are putting on a exhibition showcasing artwork from people who have been affected by the condition. Chris Burn reports.

Andrew and Lee with their mum Val

Lee and Andrew Pearse know from bitter experience just how tough caring for a loved one with dementia can be.

They were the main carers for their mum Val for five years following their father’s death in a traffic accident in 2010. The rare and cruel form of the condition she suffered with, Frontotemporal Dementia, left her unable to speak for the last few years of her life and stripped her of her personality because of its effect on the parts of the brain that deal with behaviour, problem-solving, controlling emotions and speech.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But, in her final years and since her death in 2015, they have dedicated much of their time to making life better for dementia patients and carers, through setting up a support group for carers in Sheffield to making moving films about coming to terms with the condition and what it means for sufferers and loved ones.

They have also set up an organisation called The Valerie Foundation to allow patients and carers to be involved in creative respite activities and arranged a therapy scheme called ‘Farming Comes to You’, where animals are taken into nursing homes to interact with patients.

But one of their biggest projects in recent years has been setting up the All Our Brains art exhibition, which includes work from people with dementia, carers and artists. The project was originally part of Sheffield Hallam University’s Festival of Creativity in 2016 and last year, the work was shown again at the Church of the Nazarene in Heeley Green, Sheffield.

There is now a third chance to see the work once again, as well as some newly-created pieces, at The Art House in Sheffield city centre.

Running until March 2, the aim of the exhibition is simple; to explore the effect of dementia on people’s lives in a creative way.

Andrew says the exhibition is to include new work from two workshops involving a group called Enrichment for the Elderly, which encourages

older people and those with

dementia to take part in creative activities.

He says: “The aim was for anyone to interpret dementia however they like and to give anyone the opportunity to exhibit work on the topic.”

Andrew says the exhibition includes some powerful and personal work.

“There is a timeline across the floor explaining mine and Lee’s 12-year journey through dementia since Mum was diagnosed. This is quite brutal and very honest,” he says.

“We have also got things like 24 photographed portraits celebrating professional carers and paintings based on the Mini-Mental State Examination clock test.”

The latter work refers to a 30-point questionnaire which is commonly used by doctors to test if patients have dementia.

Lee says the brothers are grateful to have the opportunity to showcase All Our Brains exhibition once again, with the display now having been seen by large numbers of people.

“The journey so far as engaged with thousands of people, started conversations and highlighted the importance and impact of the arts and dementia for anyone who wants to be involved.”

Andrew adds: “This is another great example of how organisations and individuals working together can create a great and wider platform for people to engage in all things related to dementia. It has started a wider community network and continues to have a positive effect.

“The Art House has very kindly given All Our Brains a two-week opportunity to exhibit again.

“The exhibition would not have happened if it wasn’t for The Art House giving it to us for free

“For Lee and I, it proves that dementia and arts can work together.”