Storying Sheffield

Representing Dementia

In this guest post, Laura Savidge, a final year undergraduate studying English Literature at Sheffield University, writes about her research project on narrative, identity and dementia. Laura is keen to work in mental health, and at the end of the post she talks about her ambitions.

Last summer, inspired by a mixture of literary theory and from spending time with my Grandma with Alzheimer’s, I worked on a project called ‘Representing Dementia’. I looked at the relationship between identity, narrative, and dementia through the lens of literary and narrative theory to explore the difficulties which accompany understanding and communicating an increasingly fragmented identity.
Switching on the radio, television, or opening a paper regularly takes you to a conversation about dementia, and often this conversation is dominated by symptomatic and socioeconomic discourses, which can distance and depersonalise the portrait of those with dementia. I felt it was important to gain as panoramic a perspective as possible, and that literary theory has the lungs for a meaningful voice in this discussion.
Drawing on sources from across the arts to consider the dementia subject, I looked at how dementia can distort and distance the ‘shareable world’ of stories in which we live. Just as empirically measuring seconds on the clock transforms our understanding of time into a workable empirical framework, storytelling connects us by producing a universal lexical structure through which we can relate our personal experiences.
To complement my research and demonstrate the value of arts in mental health contexts, I organised a couple of art workshops for groups of people with dementia. By creating a free, creatively orientated space, I encouraged the groups to get talking about significant events or themes in their lives which characterise their personal narratives, and share them by getting crafty.
The idea was to collect all of these significances and assemble them into personal ‘memory mobiles’, to serve as tangible, non-linear mementos of each individual narrative. And have a bit of fun in the process. By combining the practical, personal insight given by the workshops with theoretical research, I hoped to represent dementia both intimately and personally, abstractly and collectively, whilst illustrating the extent to which we depend on narrative to understand our lives.
My name’s Laura Savidge, and I’m a final year undergraduate at Sheffield University, studying English Literature, and I’m hoping to gain some experience working in mental health.
The ‘Representing Dementia’ project and my various experiences as a Samaritans volunteer and caring for my grandma with Alzheimer’s has bolstered my enthusiasm towards working in mental health. While I would particularly appreciate experience in creative or academic context, I would be keen to work in a more hands on role, and feel I have everything in me required of a mental health support worker, bar any official experience. I would be excited to collaborate with anyone on existing projects, help out, or by potentially forging new and interesting support networks.

Contact Brendan Stone if you are able to help Laura.