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(Don't) Mention Dementia

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DMD postcard

Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI)

The purpose of the project was specifically to answer ‘What is the nature, extent and impact of using art created by people with dementia, their carers, and the general public on public perceptions about dementia?’. An estimated 820,000 people in the United Kingdom have been diagnosed with dementia. By 2051 there will be over 1.7 million people with Dementia in the UK, and the visual arts offer a way to give people with dementia a voice and to understand the general public’s perceptions of dementia.

(Don’t) Mention Dementia (DMD) used an art technique to share the experiences and views of people with dementia and their family members about living with dementia, while also exploring the perceptions of the general public. DMD provided an inclusive approach to public engagement that aimed to have an impact on the critical social issues underpinning a dementia friendly society of:

  • Health, well-being and self-esteem
  • Inclusion, tolerance and mutual understanding

The handwritten accounts from people with dementia, their carers and the public were collated as an art exhibition, and provided a visual output from the initial data collection, which not only engaged the viewer in a unique way, but enabled the Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI) to collect their views about dementia before viewing the exhibition and after. In this way BUDI were able to ascertain if the handwritten accounts in the art work had an influence on the viewer. This provided a unique opportunity to engage with, educate and challenge any gap in perceptions and understanding about dementia based on experience of living with or knowing a person with dementia and more abstract views of dementia gathered from indirect sources (e.g. the media, others accounts of dementia).

DMD postcard

The BUDI team participated in a workshop led by the artist who has pioneered this technique on other projects. All team members practiced the technique before going out and engaging with the wider public. The team conducted 28 public engagement sessions (14 sessions with people with dementia, their carers and families and 14 sessions with the general public), engaging with around 100 individuals participants with dementia and around 500 carers, family members and the general public. The sessions provided opportunity for individuals to tell their story via a postcard or picture providing enrichment through creative activity and fostering a sense of social inclusion and community cohesion. The on-going evaluation process highlighted the strengths of the project, and what could be changed or included if the project is replicated.

Each postcard acts as a blank canvas for individuals to tell their story through words, allowing the viewer to reflect, and if necessary improve their understanding of dementia, enabling people living with dementia and their family members to feel a part of the local community, and reduce feelings of isolation. The project seeks to allow everyone to be ‘the artist’ and for the work created to be viewable by all.

The desired outcomes of the project were to provide a voice to people living with dementia and their carers about what it is like to live with dementia, and to encourage members of the public to think about what it is like to live with dementia. The outcomes were measured by obtaining the views of the exhibition visitors about their perceptions of living with dementia before and after they viewed the exhibition. The measures indicated a shift in perception amongst the audience to a more positive perception towards living with dementia.

The DMD art work was exhibited at Bournemouth University’s Festival of Learning in 2013, the Birmingham Care Show, Luminate, Scotland, and overseas at the Alzheimer Europe Conference, Malta 2013. Other key aspects to disseminating the DMD project are: project blog; project book; magazine and academic publications; exhibitions; project talks; social media. The partnerships were sustained following the project and BUDI has continued to collaborate with partners on other projects, including the Alzheimer Society and AgeUK.