I just finished another mural in the dementia nursing care home where I work.
We decided to illustrate some of the famous spots in London that our residents might remember. A map is something everyone has dealt with in their lives, and so is London, so it’s a good topic for everyone. It’s also something staff from around the world can use to interact with the residents without specialist knowledge.
As our care home is down south near Bromley we made sure it stretched down there, near Crystal Palace Park. In south London we had Dulwich College and Battersea Power station as well as lots of parks and commons. Our residents come from all over but there many have lived in South London for a long time. Central London was rather crowded but we squeezed in the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the Natural History Museum and the Royal Albert Hall. We reminisced about all of these areas and I was told not to forget to include some of the famous London sights like telephone boxes and buses.
I chose not to include football stadiums because if I did one I’d have to do them all but we did put in the Oval for cricket and a tennis racket near Wimbledon. We didn’t include new buildings like the shard and the London eye because they aren’t commonly remembered.
As we were painting, one lady in particular kept singing the classic song “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner” (who incidentally isn’t from London) so we decided to include the words. She was also very entertained by the elephant at Elephant and Castle.
I tried to make the images and text as clear and simple as possible so that residents who are beginning to struggle with the reading can still do it. The processes in the brain that convert the images and letters we see into meaning are affected by dementia. So I reason that abstracted images or fancy type would be confusing.
For those who didn’t want to paint we still shared memories as we painted, for example about working on the docks, or going to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
Two ladies painting the Thames. Its very tricky to persuade residents to paint. Perhaps its similar to any section of average people – most of them don’t have the confidence or inclination to paint. I have the most success if I paint outlines and provide the colour, then its a case of colouring in. None of them remember that they painted any of it, but at the time they achieved great satisfaction, focus and concentration at the task in hand. It’s been proven that this kind of social interaction and activity has a lasting impact on improving the effects of dementia, beyond the person forgetting that they took part. This is the most important thing to remember in my work.
There is another group of residents who might enjoy the process and would make a joyful mess. but when I do painting with them its very much action painting/living in the moment we don’t usually keep and display their work in the communal spaces. The reason is that the more early stage dementia sufferers can be very derisory of such work. No one can remember who did what, if they have the mental capacity they might assume its a child’s painting. I love naive art/child’s paintings as real art but I have to accept that most people are at best proud of their own offspring’s and indifferent to the rest.
The surroundings we are trying to create in the home are very important as they provide clues to the resident as to whats going on. For some residents we are trying our upmost to convey a sense of “home” and belonging. We are taught that when somebody with dementia cries out “I want to go home” or “I want my mummy” its not the actual house but more the feeling of that person or time and place that they crave. We especially can’t help them because the home or mother they want no longer exists.
So we are trying to make the home feel like ‘home’. Its difficult because everybody’s home style taste differs, and because of the scale of the building is too big. In the large communal areas some residents believe they are in another familiar place such as church hall, school, department store, place of work or even day centre. So long as they were happy in those places I’m not going to burst their bubble. Although people with dementia may have lost most of their ability to communicate their thoughts its possible that their receptive abilities are intact. So for these residents too we need to make it homely and pleasant. They may understand a lot more than you’d first think.
So how does this mural fit in? well, I suppose it doesn’t really, but there is another fight, that is to make the home personalised and as un-institution feeling as possible. We don’t generally want people to feel they are sick or in hospital (unless that is their happiest memory). This mural goes towards that, it helps break up the large blank walls and brings a topic of conversation for anyone passing by. Some people can get under stimulated and bored so it should help them trigger memories when talking to friends family, other residents or staff. When I say bored its not for lack of things to do, its more like some people get trapped where for example, they lack the short term memory to follow the plot of a novel like they used to read, but turn their nose up at other activities.
I’m really itching to do some more abstract/colour and pattern murals next.
The mural is located on the ground floor and is visible as you come in the main front door. There are many bedrooms on this floor too so many residents pass it every day. It should also help to differentiate what is quite a large building.