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Drawing for dementia

Drawing for dementia

Classes that bring art ‘to life’ for residents at a Hastings care home can continue
thanks to further funding from the Big Lottery Fund. Hastings Court on The Ridge
has been running the classes, which use a life model, in collaboration with
Hastings artist and author, Judy Parkinson, for just over a year.

“These classes offer something different to people in residential care,” said Judy.
“Unlike some art activities, this is an active, engaged class that also encourages
reminiscence, as residents, particularly the men, think back to when their own
bodies were fit and strong like the model’s.

“Although people won’t necessarily remember what they drew last time, they grow
in confidence and the pictures they produce are wonderful.” The sessions form the
‘Drawing Life’ project. It has been reviewed by behavioural neurologist, Dr Paresh
Malhotra, from Charing Cross Hospital in London, who describes it as having
“a lot of value” and there is also interest in the project from researchers at Brighton
University and Kings College, London.

Around ten residents take part each week, many of whom have dementia. Home
manager, Georgina Gamble, says the classes complement the range of activities the
home offers.“Art is known to have benefits for people with dementia, such as
boosting their self-esteem, offering them an outlet for emotions and memories, and
also helping with their communication.

“Having a person to draw seems to enhance this. You can see residents concentrating
and really looking. It’s a markedly different response to if they draw a bowl of fruit
or copy a landscape.”

Janet Hemsley has dementia and takes part in every class, sometimes with her
daughter, Sarah Overbury. “It helps us to communicate,” said Sarah. “It isn’t always
easy to talk to Mum but this gives us something to work on together, it’s fantastic.”

Another regular student is John Wollatt. “It makes us smile,” he said, “because that’s
what we’re here to do!”

Life model, Mike Mitchell, describes the classes as “tremendously moving.”

“My mother had dementia. She loved nature and would spend a lot of time looking
at the view out of the window, but her brain wasn’t really active, it wasn’t firing.
To see these people engaged and involved, and reflecting on their drawings has been
amazing. It’s been a very intimate experience for me.”

Judy, who has written a book about memory, first tried out the classes last year and
is hoping to soon stage an exhibition of the residents’ work at the Jerwood Gallery in
Hastings and in London.

“I want people to see what’s been produced,” she said. “Residents have used charcoal
and chalk which has added to the sensory experience, and they have such a sense of
achievement when they see a framed drawing on the wall.”

For more information visit: Drawing For Life.

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