A second chance

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By Grace Stead | Tuesday 17 May 2016

“Your nan has dementia.”

This new word crashed into my world. Dementia? What does that even mean? Is it just that she repeats herself all the time and that she can’t remember certain things?

My nan on my dad’s side was diagnosed with something that had been off my radar until now. Dementia had come into my world and my life would never be the same.

Because I didn’t fully understand dementia, I made a lot of mistakes with my nan and did some things I wish I hadn’t. However, I did spend the years desperately trying, with my dad, to get the staff at the care home to help stimulate my nan – to get her out of bed and dressed or to take her down to see the singers and entertainers that came in.

Joyce, Grace's nanI became so frustrated as her granddaughter and decided to start doing my own research on dementia. After seeing the massive
effect that music had on Nan, I began exploring how creativity could help. However, she sadly passed away around five years ago.

My maternal nan has now been diagnosed with a mixture of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia and she continues to live at home. This has given me a second chance to use my knowledge to help her and improve her quality of life.

So if she’s upset or agitated, I try to consider how dementia is causing her to react in the way she is. I talk to my grandad who is her primary carer and ask him to cut himself some slack. Sometimes you shout or get upset as a carer, but you are only human. I help him understand how dementia affects her and what helps, so that he isn’t left with the same thoughts that I have about my other nan – that I could have or should have done things differently.

What drives me now? That ‘should have’ or ‘could have’ still haunts me, so I have created a not-for-profit company in Sheffield called Enrichment for the Elderly, which hopes to spread understanding through creativity.

We offer workshops for people with dementia, helping them to remember, communicate and feel calm and happy through creative pursuits, including music, storytelling, puppetry and more. We also provide Wonderment Training for care staff, helping them to enrich people’s lives through creativity. My nan has been the starting point for many of my creative intervention ideas.

Creative-workshopWe have just delivered the Wonderment Project in three care homes across Sheffield where residents made their own puppets and created videos diaries over 10 weeks. This brought a lot of laughter and joy and supported residents to connect with each other and with family members when words have become difficult to find. We also recently did some training with ‘Drink Wise, Age Well’ in Sheffield, supporting volunteers to understand dementia when they are helping carers in the community.

I’d like to see a world where carers get the support they need, where people with dementia have an opportunity to express themselves during all stages and where the general public have greater understanding of how their actions can affect carers and people with dementia.

Find out more about Enrichment for the Elderly at www.enrichmentfortheelderly.org

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About the author

Grace Stead

Grace Stead sadly lost her nan on her dad’s side to dementia in 2013. Her maternal nan has now also been diagnosed. The experience has caused Grace to start her own company – Enrichment for the Elderly – which offers creative workshops for people with dementia and training for carers. She’s seen the positive impact that her activities can have and hopes to spread awareness about dementia and how we can all help.