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'Real Lives: The Art Of Living With Dementia' Features Striking Artwork By Dementia NI Members

Dementia NI's unique art exhibition is on a tour of Northern Ireland!

Real Lives: The Art Of Living With Dementia, which explores what it is really like living with dementia and challenges widespread stigma about the condition, has been travelling around the country since its launch in March 2023.

The exhibition showcases thought-provoking photography, striking patchwork quilts and moving poetry. In total there are 45 pieces created by Dementia NI members, all of whom live with a diagnosis of dementia.

The art exhibition has been shown at venues including the Waterside Theatre in Derry-Londonderry, Mossley Mill Theatre in Newtownabbey, the village of Belleek, County Fermanagh, Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen and PwC offices in Belfast.

There are over 20,000 people living with dementia across Northern Ireland and this number is projected to rise to 60,000 by 2050*, due in part to our ageing population.

Years of stigma and misunderstanding have led to common misconceptions about what it means to live with dementia. In fact, dementia has been reported as the condition people fear the most, with over half (56%) of people putting off seeking a diagnosis for up to a year or more**.

Our exhibition sets out to challenge these misconceptions, transforming how people view the condition and starting conversations through the medium of art. It shares a message of hope that many people with dementia are still able to enjoy life in the same way as before their diagnosis and live well with dementia.

The patchwork quilts on display were created during an online project hosted by Dementia NI and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, to help local people with dementia stay active during lockdown. Working with Arts Council art tutors, our members were encouraged to make their own heirloom quilts which tell the story of their lives.

It includes a quilt by Dementia NI member Yvonne Thompson, who lives in Newtownabbey. Yvonne’s vibrant quilt draws on her working days as a District Nursing Sister and depicts happy times with her family at their caravan in Castlerock.

“My quilt shows the family caravan in Castlerock which has an important place in my heart," says Yvonne. "My family love to spend time there and it's where I holidayed with my parents as a child. I would love people to come away from this exhibition feeling that people with dementia can keep achieving things and learning new skills. I hope it encourages people to start conversations about dementia and ask questions about the condition. As this exhibition shows, being diagnosed does not mean your life is over, you can live well with dementia and continue to reach your full potential.”

The free exhibition also features photographs, taken by Dementia NI members including Davie McElhinney from Enniskillen, with support from Arts Care. Through poignant photographs, Davie tells his story of the emotions he experienced after diagnosis and the journey he went on from shock and despair to acceptance and hope.

“After a diagnosis of dementia, it is still possible to experience new things and achieve something worthwhile,” says Davie. “It is my hope that stigma continues to be challenged and we can have an open dialogue around how to challenge assumptions about dementia when they appear. People think dementia is an elderly person’s condition but that’s not the case. We [Dementia NI members] are early onset and are living well with medication and support. It’s trying to break that misconception; most people only know the media image.”

This project has been made possible through a partnership approach with Waterside Theatre, in particular Amanda Jane Prow. In addition, we would like to thank our funders - Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

If you would like more information on the exhibition or to speak to one of our members, please email jane@dementiani.org or call 07966 881 422.

* Statistic provided by Age UK

** Statistic provided by the Alzheimer’s Society

Click play for a preview of the exhibition.