Connecting through art

Posted on: 15th January, 2014

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

Mary O’Brien visits St Joseph’s Ward in Bantry General Hospital and sees the enjoyment that some of the older residents living with dementia get out of painting.

There were an estimated 41,740 people in Ireland living with dementia in 2013. By the time we reach 2041, it it expected that 147,015 in this country will have dementia. Even more worrying than this statistic is the fact that many people living with dementia are undiagnosed.

Some of the issues faced by people with dementia are memory problems, communication differences, perceptual differences and poor judgement. A person with dementia does not lose their rhythm, humour, senses or longterm memory. They still need to be touched, loved, appreciated and to feel safe.

“As we become more emotional and less cognitive, it’s the way you talk to us, not what you say that we will remember. We know the feeling, but don’t know the plot. Your smile, your laugh and your touch are what we will connect with. Empathy heals. Just love us as we are.  We’re still in here, in emotion and spirit, if only YOU could find US.” Bryden C. 2005, p.138. Dancing with Dementia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.



For someone with dementia, social interaction is very important, which is why the Arts for Health Partnership Programme recently launched in West Cork plays a vital role in the health and social care environment for older people.

On St Joseph’s Ward in Bantry General Hospital, residents with dementia celebrate their creativity in a weekly session with Activities Co-ordinator Sarah Cairns and Artist Practitioner Sharon Dipity. A recent gathering involved painting from aerial photography. Adrigole man Denis’ impression from a picture of the Fastnet Lighthouse shows great talent with the brush. Some of the other residents prefer using combs and stamps to spread the paint, as it’s a more freeing movement. Stefanie, age 97, is one of the older participants but still gets stuck in. Kathleen from Kilgarriffe, who is completely deaf but still sings beautifully, loves the group painting sessions. Maureen from Coomhola suffers from MS and doesn’t have the use of her hands anymore. Diagnosed with the condition 25 years ago, she started painting and writing using her mouth three years ago. She thought she’d never write her name again. Joe, a taxi driver from Glengarriff, has recently joined the ward on respite. From a family of turf cutters, Joe talked about the brown and black turf and how they used to cut the turf with a ‘Slain’.

Sarah works on St Joseph’s Ward in Bantry Hospital three days a week. She is also part of the training team with Sonas apc, a training and resource organization, centred on non-pharmacological intervention in dementia care.

“People living with dementia are often very misunderstood,” says Sarah. “You should never contradict a person with dementia. If they ask what time the train is due in, your answer should be along the lines of ‘oh, is there a train?’. If someone with dementia is looking for their mother, they are reaching out for care and love. It is very important to make a person with dementia feel safe.”

Sarah goes on to explain how many women with dementia usually feel they should be at home in the afternoon, ie taking care of their family. A man who has worked in the Council all his life might feel anxious every day around the time his breaks used to take place, usually 11am and 3pm.

“Touch is very important for someone with dementia,” says Sarah, “which is why we do doll and dog therapy. There aren’t many opportunity to give love in here, which is why just holding a doll can give a person with dementia such pleasure.”

As for the art activity, the testimonies of participants speak for it — “I love doing it. It passes a piece of the day away” and ‘”it made me feel good, it lifted me,” were some comments.

Arts for Health Partnership Programme is made up of four bodies – West Cork Arts Centre, HSE South, Cork ETB and Cork County Council. The Arts for Health Partnership Programme is a strategic and sustainable response to an ageing population, which enables choice, social inclusion and equitable access to arts for older people in West Cork.

The arts programme maintains a high number of stakeholders over a wide geographically dispersed rural location. Five Community Hospitals; Skibbereen, Schull, Dunmanway, Clonakilty, Castletownbere and five Day Care Centres; Skibbereen, Dunmanway, Clonakilty, Castletownbere, Bantry, and Bantry General Hospital, Care of the Elderly Unit currently avail of the service managed by West Cork Arts Centre.

Latest News Articles:

West Cork girls among first to earn Irish Girl Guides’ new engineering badge
What is GDPR and who does it affect?
Kinsale historic map project launched
Dunmanway launches year-long celebration of Sam Maguire
Sam Maguire School Tour launched
Fundraising drive to get Kinsale students to World Robotics Championships to Kentucky
Answer the Call to save lives on March 23
Clonakilty students return from trip of a lifetime to rural Malawi
Clonakilty Fairtrade Fortnight celebrates 15 years
€44 million to improve Cork roads

Join us on Facebook

... See MoreSee Less

13th April, 2018  ·  

An evening on the 'Balance of Feeling Good' by Clonakilty Gaa Club Health and Wellbeing Committee followed by Guest Speaker, Cork GAA Chairperson, Tracey Kennedy.

Paddy Duggan, former Principal of Clonakilty Community College, will be MC on the night, facilitating a discussion on getting the balance of feeling good.
Contributors on the night are Colm Sheehy, Conor Murray, David Lowney, Denis Murphy, Eoghan Deasy, Sean McEvoy, Thomas Clancy and Treasa O'Brien.
Topics covered will range from awareness and responsibility to yourself and others to the benefits of exercise and nutrition.
The evening is suitable for everyone aged 16 and over from players, members of the community, parents of young and adolescent children, etc.

This is a public event, free of charge and everyone is invited and very welcome to attend.
... See MoreSee Less

12th April, 2018  ·  

The Cast of Harold Pinter’s ‘No Man’s Land’ are on their way to the All-Ireland finals, having won 26 awards, including five best of Festivals, at the Amateur Drama League of Ireland annual three act festivals. The play ‘No Man’s Land, by Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize Winning Author is directed by Jennifer Williams.

One last opportunity to view this multi award winning play at Skibbereen Town Hall, on Saturday 14th of April, before the finals.

Having met by chance in a pub, two aging writers continue a long night of drinking and reminiscing in a stately London home. As the night wears on, their conversation wanders through memories long forgotten or invented. Is their encounter real or a delusion? Are they strangers or do they share a past history? When unexpected guests intrude upon an increasingly surreal evening, the atmosphere quickly changes from friendly to threatening, and the encounter becomes a game of survival.

Tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance by emailing

For more information please contact
... See MoreSee Less

9th April, 2018  ·  

Jump to: