I have just returned from the launch of the Woodlands Dementia Cafe in Salford, where I had been invited with my colleagues Mary Weston and Damian Taylor to talk about Get Into Reading and plans to set up a brand new group connected to the Dementia Cafe. It was a wonderful morning and there was a great sense of enthusiasm and excitement about the new resource, in particular, the chance to meet other local people living with dementia, to share the challenges, opportunities and changes that the condition brings. There was also a lot of enthusiasm about the reading group and lots of people came up to us at the end of the morning to say ‘we’d like to be part of this’. These comments came from service users, family carers and staff members alike and were a brilliant demonstration of the positive approach to new things as well as being a great way to celebrate National Dementia Awareness week, a far cry from the all-too-often negative and depressing images portrayed on television and in the press. Yes there is a lot that needs to improve in the way we care for people living with dementia, and a lot of work still to be done, but there are great things happening too and it is important to get that message across and to let people know that a diagnosis of dementia is not a prison sentence.
We are currently just over half way through our six month pilot project with Bupa Care Services. Since April we have been setting up and delivering weekly reading groups in eight Bupa care homes in Merseyside and London as well as working with Bupa staff members to train them to read aloud with residents. We have trained activities coordinators, care workers, administrators and even family members to use shared reading with those they care for. The groups have been incredibly well received and we have read all sorts, from Shakespeare and William Blake, to Wendell Berry and Robert Louis Stevenson.
For some group members the groups have stirred up a life-long love of reading, with one lady telling me this week ‘I love reading aloud, it reminds me how much I love to read, and the words can sink in, it is wonderful!’ For others the groups have provided a new and unexpected interest and opened up a previously unexplored avenue. For one gentleman, reading was something that reminded him of school and hadn’t been touched since. He preferred to spend his time walking his beloved dogs. But over the weeks, he has blossomed within the group. Initially very quiet, though always polite, he would listen well and look at the poems, but didn’t seem all that interested in them or in reading himself. Then one week we read poems about animals, and during a discussion about ‘The Tyger’ by William Blake, he told us about his pet dog:
He was wonderful, always a twinkle in his eye, and I would take him walking for hours, round and round. It made me feel proud. People would say he was a handsome dog, and he was.
This personal revelation to the group seemed to draw him in and he loved the rhythm of the Blake poem. I noticed as I read it through a second time that he was reading, quietly, but aloud, along with me. Now each week he greets me with a big smile on his face and asks what I’ve brought with me this week. He often joins in with me as I read aloud and picks out bits in the poems that he likes.
Staff too have caught the enthusiasm for the groups and are passing that on to other residents in the homes, taking copies of the poems to read aloud with them as they get them ready in the morning or over afternoon tea. After coming to the first training session one lady told us, ‘I was really nervous about reading aloud before, but once I started I didn’t want to stop’. Another lady told us she had taken A Little, Aloud home with her to practice her reading and improve her confidence for reading to residents:
I really enjoyed reading aloud today and reading in different ways. It has given me a new insight into reading and I will be doing it more often now and reading more with residents, especially poetry.
It is wonderful to see this shared enthusiasm for shared reading within care home settings and to think about the possibilities, the hours of pleasure people can enjoy through reading together and making connections through literature. It is a very exciting development and something we are working hard to spread and develop across the country.
To read more about Dementia Awareness week and living well with dementia I recommend a visit to this page on the Alzheimer’s Society’s website. http://alzheimers.org.uk/remembertheperson