Today an “in my shoes” guest blog from a young woman, full of passion to improve lives of people living with dementia. Rachel Mortimer is the founder of EngAGE and Create and here she shares her experience of attending her first Dementia Congress recently…
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
~ Pablo Picasso
Recently, I went to my first Dementia Congress. From what I’d heard this was a kind of rite of passage for people working in the world of dementia care, so I was really looking forward to seeing what it was all about. I set up my social enterprise, EngAge & Create, at the beginning of the year having stumbled unknowingly into a dementia specialist care home and being shocked into doing something to give residents a sense of purpose and forum to have a meaningful stimulating conversation, even those with communication difficulties. EngAge & Create facilitates discussion for those living with dementia, applying Montessori principles to the exploration of art. As the technique I’ve developed is particularly effective with people living with more moderate to severe dementia, I now offer training to enable care staff and relatives to provide much needed stimulation whilst supporting verbal and non-verbal communication.
My background is media, a totally different world to that of social care….although the longer I’m doing this the more I wonder if that is true. The congress is a full on programmes of sessions, with some awards thrown in. The usual kind of thing. What struck me though, was that the people I met there were different. I have done my fair share of networking since I started EngAge & Create, on and off-line, and so it was great to put some faces to names of Twitter friends and catch up with those I’d met at other events. This wasn’t just business chats though, from start to finish congress felt like one big reunion. Everyone was so excited to see each other, hugs galore, coffees and chats, it really felt like I was part of something special – more a movement than a sector. People here wanted to make a real difference for people living with dementia, they wanted to be the change – from the students who at the first session challenged everyone to change their language, to Brendan McCormack’s Kitwood Memorial Lecture who reminded us ‘the labels don’t help…we are all persons of experience’.
So the theme for me was not what I had expected; I have been to many conferences in my old life in media – even inspirational ones – but this one was full of love. The sessions were interesting, although I would have liked to see less PowerPoint and more interaction. The fascinating Whose Shoes? session was so popular not everyone could fit in the room! There were also so many wonderful people there who were not on the agenda but could offer invaluable insights; I think everyone would have benefited from more collaborative sessions. There were so many interesting sounding sessions it was hard to choose which to attend. It was great that it included several opportunities to hear powerful stories from people living with dementia and their carers – inspiring stuff.
So for me, the words that kept running through my head during congress were love and change. What a wonderful bunch of loving people all in one place, trying to change the lives for people living with dementia and their carers.
A final thought as a first-timer…whilst we need to know all the facts and figures, there is so much creativity and innovation going on in the world of dementia care, and clearly a lot of inspiring loving people making it happen, so let’s harness all of this and spread the word with equally inspiring innovative opportunities at congress next year…I for one can’t wait!