The current exhibition ‘Shelf Life: The Ornaments are Talking to Me’ has particular relevance to those suffering from Dementia as the work of the artist, Mark Clarke, which takes the form of five monumental, crowded shelves, was inspired by his mother, who died of Alzheimer’s, and is a poetic reinterpretation of her homemade shrines. As part of the gallery talks, I’ve attended along with Exhibitions Manager, George Harris to explain some of the significance of the themes in the context of Dementia.
Pets are a source of comfort but also provide a possible sense of order to a day for someone living with Dementia: their beloved pet needs to be fed/walked therefore providing a structure to their day.
On a personal level, this “shelf” struck an immediate chord as I have seen many similar “shrines” to pets past and present when visiting people at home.
Once Upon A Time
Stories can evoke happy times, sad times, interesting times. So often one hears people living with Dementia talk about times past. If you think of a bookshelf full of books, all of which represent a memory/set of memories and as the Dementia, sadly, progresses, the books start to fall off the shelves, it is usually the top ones that “fall out” first, leaving the longest memories about which to reminisce.
It is important to remember not to see the shell of the person sitting in a care home, possibly unable to communicate very easily, unable to take part in the activities they were once so passionate about but to remember that person has had a life, an interesting life which deserves recognition and respect. Talk to that person about that interesting life, acknowledging, of course, that this can be a very difficult time.
Time To Kill
As Dementia takes more of a grip and you see that person’s life becoming more and more disordered and they have to go into 24 hour care, you hear people ask if it is worth going to visit people as they won’t remember. Of course it is worth visiting as although the person living with Dementia may not remember the visit, they will remember the feeling of something pleasant having taken place, however short-lived that may be.
You can see ‘Shelf Life: The Ornaments are Talking to Me’ until Sunday 12th February
By Nicky Tulloch, Dementia Adviser Durham Dales