We have been delighted to work with Gallery Oldham, using objects to make memories happen. The Gallery have run many reminiscence activities but this is the first time that the conversations and reminiscence have been channelled into something that can be kept – art and poems.
MAKING MEMORIES IS A BOOK of creative 'recipes' for artwork and poetry stimulated by reminiscence. You won’t have come across many of these ideas before, because they've been invented especially for this book. All of the ideas were tried out by groups of participants, reacting to objects and ideas we brought along. The groups often included people with a dementia diagnosis and people with very pronounced physical problems, like mobility issues, or visual impairment.
The idea behind the Making Memories book is to share creative ideas, designed to stimulate reminiscence and turn it into the form of poems and artwork. Why do this? Making something from your experience can give it a clearer shape, give it greater meaning - and that is a powerful positive influence in anyone's life.
A perfect activity is something like this: where we're doing something and discussing it and you have to think. I can think to myself I've spoken to someone, done something today. The good effect of it lasts longer.
In the bustle of a care home there isn’t always time come up with new ideas for activities, especially activities that are unique. This little book contains two years worth of creative experiments. Each of the recipes are custom made to last for an enjoyable half hour or hour. Some of them are even quicker, ideas for a 10 minute discussion, or quick little conversation starters. Others are easy ways into making artwork or poems, but which can go deeper if people want to for a day or more. They're a challenge, but an enjoyable challenge.
Objects stimulate memory - we've seen this time and again. Lois passed a rolling pin around a group and people were immediately talking about the kitchens of their childhood. I watched Glenys hand a cotton shuttle from a mill round a group of older people with dementia - and the fascination for that object was electric. It seemed to Lois and I that something could be done with that energy, generated by significant objects.
If you look at something for a second you might get a tiny glimpse of its power, but if you really focus on it you'll get bigger rewards. Like anything, the more you put in the more you get out.
Creative activities can bring focus to objects, helping to find a shape for the emotions and recollections that the objects bring. They can also help you go deeper. If you try to really search for the words that describe, say, how much an old teddy bear meant to you when you were a kid, you'll find that the object stops being just an object, it becomes a doorway back into the past.
We want to give confidence and a voice to people, many of whom haven't drawn a picture or written a poem for 50 or 60 years. So how to encourage confidence, without condescension? How to build a sense of pride in people's achievements, although their skills have changed?
People can be shut off by embarrassment, of their own volition. There's a stigma with mental health and society needs to address that. But I find activities like this therapeutic. People feel comfortable, not threatened, at ease with others. It engenders a feeling of confidence and fellowship. The nice thing about this group is that people are affected by a common theme - and others' duty is sharing (not caring) and improving quality of life.
It's vital that we introduce activities into care venues that challenge. Challenge our and their pre-conceptions of what older people can achieve. It's true that not everyone will be able or want to join in, however rather than always reducing activity to the 'lowest common denominator' we can adapt activities to peoples skills and abilities. Its a fine line. Acceptance of new limitations, awareness of new possibilities. Most important of all there is no Right or Wrong, just the adventure of having a go.
“Margaret would like to say that she had an excellent afternoon with you. She said you're a great change from all the familiar faces here and the TV too. She'd like you to come back, tomorrow.”