The Sights Sounds and Smells at Dementia Wellbeing Day 2017

[25 May 2017]

Each and every year Hull holds a public Dementia Well-being Day, where agencies and health organisations come together to be a focal point for all those wanting to find out more about dementia. Stalls and information points signpost visitors to the organisations so that they can get a better understanding as to what is available for all those persons affected by dementia.

This year the event lead Butterflies to put a focus on the sensory experience and the power of the different senses to provoke memories. Using touch visitors were invited to identify different objects obscured inside a hessian bag. The objects were from yesteryear a flat iron, candle holder, something I think was a blackboard rubber - it’s all white boards and electronic doohickery nowadays. The objects acted as starting point for conversation and discussion triggering memories, as did the scent jars of pretty and potent whiffs and sniffs. It has long been held that particular smells can transport you back to a particular time and place - it’s geraniums for me and memories of my grandpa in his greenhouse - for others it might be a special perfume or make of sweet. Goodies are good at taking us back and the inclusion of parma violets proves a familiar smell to many. The jars filled with soap flakes, lavender, furniture polish and some really nasty niffs, are not at all easy for our generation to identify… we rely far more on visual clues today like branding and and packaging.

Many of the stalls responded to the vintage theme with fabulous sixties, seventies and eighties creations, our very own June Cooke was dressed in a conservative skirt suit in blue completed by a brimmed hat, we nicknamed her Winifred Holtby. A number of the stalls were recreations of shops and other spaces from sporting all manner of goods that have vanished from our homes and the shop shelf. In addition to the imaginatively themed stalls there was a vintage bus parked up just outside, on Princes Dock Street, for people to go and visit.

The day was programmed with a range of activities designed to stimulate movement and exercise amongst the dementia clients. There’s circle work - gentle exercise, movement and dance, delivered by professional dancers Tamar Draper and Lottie Hanson, some belly dancing classes too - not for the faint-hearted but all good fun.

Throughout the day there are more instructed dance sessions that to the onlooker, must be a bit like a very off-Morris. Brightly dressed folk waving brightly orange and yellow scarfs doing their level best to remember left from their right and swish up or down - that’s just the staff.

The women from the wheelchair dance company have made a marvellous effort with each wearing a coveted Pink Ladies jacket from the classic film Grease.

There’s singing too and a moment where my jokes about my bad singing and not knowing the words to Moon River, provoke a wonderful moment with a Butterflies member, as she describes her favourite memory of being with her husband singing around a campfire on their holidays.

It never ceases to amaze me what will provoke a memory - the littlest comment can be just the thing to unlock something, bringing something to the fore, revealing the person behind the dementia. To that end we at Butterflies Memory Loss Support Group are always looking for new ways to engage, entertain and stimulate the group, dancers Tamar and Lottie are examples of finding people who can use their skills to benefit those dealing with dementia. Having activity-led events and sessions is good fun, builds friendships, builds trust, helps to alleviate boredom, and can slow the progression of dementia.

One the best activities that underlines that very thing are the drum sessions led by the ever enthusiastic Hut People who bring with them a fantastic array of percussive instruments to deliver loud exuberant sessions where everybody whatever their ability is encouraged to join in. Banging a drum is such good fun and we all should probably do more of it. Lined up twenty or more of us including Hull K.R. rugby star Liam Salter the new Butterflies Patron, caused a scene, made a din, stopping shoppers to Princes Quay, to stand and watch, then come down and see what we are all about.

The whole day is typified by good humour and a warm and open spirit - everyone is there to raise awareness of dementia, all the different forms and ways it presents itself, whilst remaining resolutely firm on the idea that there is life after diagnosis.

Oh and lastly there’s the little matter of the artworks judged by Ferens Gallery Head Curator Kirsten Simister, the prize winners were Charlie, Shirley and Rob.

There is still the Audience Award to be decided, where we invite you, to choose your favourite work from some of the brilliant pieces currently on show, inside HIP bottom-deck Princes Quay - but do hurry voting ends next week!

Dementia Well-being Day was organised by Hull Dementia Collective and NHS Hull Clinical Commissioning Group - The Hull Dementia Collaborative is made up of health, social care and voluntary organisations from across Hull, plus people with dementia and their carers.

[Michelle Dee]