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Film-making with women in long-term dementia care

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Rita's school bombed in 1941We have just finished an 18-month study which involved spending many hours in a long-term care environment making short films with people with dementia. Consistent with the broader care home population, eight of the ten people who took part were women. Whilst the men involved tended to avoid group activities, the women developed a distinct group identity during the study and liked to spend time sharing memories.

All the stories told in their films by these eight women relate predominantly to their childhood and early adult years. Whilst none of the women chose to talk directly about the experience of dementia, a deeper level of narrative analysis suggests that this experience may be represented in metaphorical ways, particularly the experience of formal care. The importance of home and previous experiences of being unhoused or displaced are, for example, frequent themes. Eileen grew up in a care home and had to 'fend for herself'. When Rita's school was bombed, she was evacuated and split up from her mother and sisters. Florence moved from a close-knit slum-clearance area to one of the first 1930s social housing schemes. Nora grew up in a poor area of Tyneside and remembered the 'awful times' of the Jarrow hunger march. For Hope it is her father's blindness that still dominates her stories of growing up.

At the same time, though, memories of seaside outings (on the ferry across the Mersey in one case) sing-songs in the pub or around the piano in the front parlour also loomed large, and cycling had been a common escape for several of the women. Lilian and Janet both love to sing and their films consist largely of popular songs and rhymes from their teenage and early adult lives. Janet worked in a maternity hospital and had many tales to tell about the trials women experienced in the days before contraception became freely available, often falling pregnant again before they had recovered from the last birth. Against easy assumptions about women of their generation, every one of them had been in paid employment after marriage as well as before it; in fact Rose describes her job in a department store as having been 'her life'. Less happily, Eileen told us how she broke the fingers of one hand in an industrial pressing machine, and couldn't work for weeks afterwards.

These filmed stories speak volumes about what women with dementia have endured and survived during their lifetimes, and the person who always comes before the diagnosis.

For more information about this study see: http://www.sscr.nihr.ac.uk/PDF/ProjectOutlines/PO23.pdf

Andrea Capstick and Katherine Ludwin, University of Bradford

Tags: female roles, research, women with dementia Written 2014-06-24

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