On Sunday I attended a jazz gig at St Mark’s Church in Wootton, Isle of Wight. The Jim Thorn Quartet were playing to raise money for church funds, in part to galvanise on-going work to make St Mark’s Church disability accessible and dementia friendly, and to underpin some new dementia projects in the pipeline.

I am privileged to work with Reverend Veronica Brown, who is the parish priest for Wootton, where St Mark’s Church is located, and for the parishes of Binstead and Havenstreet, under the auspices of the Diocese of Portsmouth.

I first met Veronica when she was a curate in the parish of Whippingham and East Cowes. Together we set up ‘Dementia Conversations’, a monthly evening meet-up at St James’ Church in East Cowes, for people from the local community and further afield.

The aim of ‘Dementia Conversations’ is to host the exploration and debate of a range of issues related to dementia - in the widest sense. The meetings are themed, and the areas of discussion include topics such as:

  • How to keep people with dementia occupied and engaged
  • Overcoming communication barriers
  • Early signs of dementia
  • Getting a diagnosis
  • How to tell family members and friends
  • Changes in family relationships
  • Becoming a carer
  • How to find help when the family carer needs respite
  • When the time is right to move a loved one into a care home
  • Swallowing problems
  • The health-giving benefits of music and the arts
  • End of life care

The subjects are determined by the group and will sometimes include a guest contributor. We have also watched short films, such as extracts from Barbara’s Story, and looked at blogs and articles and responded to NHS and government consultations about dementia. You can access the resource here,

‘Dementia Conversations’ are open to anyone to attend. The objectives are to provide education and raise awareness, to offer facilitated support and an opportunity for peer-support, and to create a safe social space for people to meet and talk informally, always with tea, coffee and cake.

Since meeting Veronica, I have become an occasional church goer. I’ve become curious about the role that faith plays in people’s lives, and how their belief system is affected – either challenged or strengthened – in the face of adversity. I do not follow any one religion, but I enjoy observing and participating in church services and find the fellowship and community of the church uplifting.

Listening to jazz music on a Sunday afternoon is a wonderfully relaxing way to pass the time. The quartet, on this occasion was Jim and Loren Thorn, Jon Thorne and Nick Page, and the mix of music was refreshing and enjoyable.

This was a very accessible, dementia friendly activity. I was left thinking that we need to make more effort to encourage people living with dementia to come along to events of this kind. Community inclusion is vital.

Loren and Jim spoke movingly about the relevance of our work to their family situation. Loren shared with the audience that they care for Jim’s father, who has Alzheimer’s and needs a lot of attention; and Jim told me of the hugely valuable part that music plays in lifting his father’s mood and giving him quality of life and enjoyment.

As well as the ‘Dementia Conversations’ group at in East Cowes, there are groups at St John’s Church in Ryde, co-hosted by Reverend Sue Theobald, and at Bowden Vale Methodist Church in Altrincham, co-ordinated by David Jolley and Reverend Ros Watson - get more information here.

I am working with colleagues at ‘Dementia Pathfinders’ to expand the reach of ‘Dementia Conversations’. If you would like to establish a group in partnership with your church or within your faith community, please do get in touch.

Also, if you are caring for a relative with dementia and have experienced the powerful impact that music can have on a person’s sense of identity, purpose and wellbeing, please share your story with us. You can contact me by email at askbarbara@unforgettable.org or by telephone at the Unforgettable office.

Unforgettable has a range of music players that enable people with dementia to enjoy their own personal playlist, including Arthur, our new musical teddy.

If you (like me) are a jazz enthusiast, you might like to know that Newport Jazz Weekend, for which Jim Thorn is the event director, is taking place this coming weekend, more information here.