Burley Dementia Action Group – Special Event

On Sunday afternoon 19th May, the doors opened at the Methodist Church to more than 100 people who were made very welcome. Paula Truman, our Ward Officer from Bradford Council and a member of our committee at Burley Dementia Action Group, was our MC for the event, who expertly delivered entertaining introductions and links.

Wendy Mitchell was our first speaker. She said her main aim is to make more people aware of what it is like to live with dementia by sharing her experiences. Wendy lives with mixed dementia having been diagnosed with both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia in July 2014 at the age of 58. She lives in East Yorkshire and has two daughters. Wendy’s best-selling book, ‘Somebody I Used to Know’, is a thought provoking, funny and at times, an emotional read. Her positive approach to living with dementia has resulted in her working with the Alzheimer’s Society, taking part in research projects, appearing on television programmes, most recently ‘Lorraine’, also speaking on the radio, most recently Radio 4, and travelling extensively up and down the country speaking at conferences. She has advised actors, writers, directors and producers of plays at Leeds Playhouse and for the television series ‘Casualty’. A current story line is about one of its main characters, Duffy, a staff nurse on the programme, who has recently been diagnosed with dementia.

Wendy’s talk was entitled, ‘Adapting to Life with Dementia’. She explained how important technology is, through her iPad and sending emails. She asks ‘Alexa’, to play her relaxing music, to tell her when to take her medication and to tell her what day it is. Wendy says she can even tell Alexa ‘to shut up!’ Wendy also uses Twitter and has a daily blog, ‘Which Me Am I Today?’ She writes this throughout the day to remind her of where she’s been and what she has done that day. She says this is because she ‘can type the words quicker than I can think and speak them’. She mentioned the solutions she’s put in place to overcome the effects of dementia and how she adapts as the disease throws challenges at her. Wendy’s positivity shone through from her first few words. ‘Dementia can be the beginning of a new journey. It can be filled with laughter, new opportunities and adventures, making for a calmer, less stressful life.’

The next speaker, Nicky Taylor, is Theatre and Dementia Research Associate at Leeds Playhouse and Leeds Beckett University’s Centre for Dementia Research. In 2014, she travelled to the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia over 7 weeks to research arts and dementia as a Churchill Fellow. She spoke about the potential of arts and creativity to support people to live a more fulfilled life with dementia. She mentioned the ‘five ways to wellbeing’ advice on maintaining positive mental wellbeing: connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give. Nicky’s talk included photographs of the people she met and their activities during her travels, and a film of the Every Third Minute festival curated by people living with dementia at Leeds Playhouse in 2018.

Nicky said “It feels we are at a crucial time for creativity and dementia, not just in the stories we tell about dementia and who is involved in telling them, but in the wider recognition of music, art and drama as therapeutic tools for people with dementia. The arts create opportunities for people living with dementia to shine, to take the lead, and to be recognised as creative beings.’

A huge thank you has to go Susan Collins. It is due to her meticulous planning, her foresight to book two such busy, prestigious speakers at the start of Dementia Action Week, that the audience enjoyed an informative, inspirational afternoon that included lots of laughter. What a coup for our community! A huge thank you also to Janet Ault, Bruce Walker and Ian Lamond from the Methodist Church, our volunteers (and to those who couldn’t make it) for their contribution of the most delicious homemade cakes and scones and to everyone who contributed to the raffle. It was a tremendous team effort.

Val McKenzie