Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Little mountains

Spaghetti Maze: Pinfold Lane Day Centre, Day 4

We are running reminiscence workshops at the Pinfold Centre in Bury, working with people who have a dementia diagnosis to build up life-stories, for use as their disease progresses and memories erode. We've been invited by Bury Text Festival to experiment with new approaches to building life-stories. This blog covers a little of our thinking behind the bigger project.

One of the keys is simply the documentation of conversations, making life stories from people's own words. We're hoping that using something that moves toward a personal language will generate phrases that are more powerfully evocative for participants than the summarised paragraphs that are usually the standby of documents like this. Everybody's mode of spoken expression is different, a kind of language fingerprint and we've tried to keep the veracity of that. We'll also play with different narrative and organising structures, including family trees. We'll incorporate art and poetic work alongside the reminiscence, again widening the expressive range. Finally, our progress or hiccups are noted in these blogs and other evaluations, so that there's a virtual paper trail leading through it all, for others to follow if they wish.


There is a tendency – as we all get older – to shut out the new and retread the past. Memory Lane can become the corridor of a prison. This is exacerbated by dementia which makes the present particularly scary, with it's worries about washing, dressing, eating, shopping, travelling, all of which 'little' tasks require a fully-functioning memory or they become mountainous. Anything that seems to break the bubble of solitude and self-absorption in these circumstances is potentially useful.

That's the theory, in practice we're finding that the dynamic of our two groups at Pinfold is subtly changing. The first two sessions gathered a group of individuals into reminiscing. Now they're becoming a group with many individual facets. People are listening to one another more closely and therefore are stimulated to respond outside of their usual patterns and preconceptions.


In the group itself, attention spans are lengthening and folk are involved in a joined-up conversation, rather than interjecting non-sequiturs. One of the groups was dominated by a particular individual who is now having to gear down her contributions because the others are no longer happy to let her have all the say. Another individual has started talking on the bus home, rather than staying silent as she'd previously done. They are tiny shifts to a superficial glance, but they indicate a change in attitude. And altitude.

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