“For me, seeing my Mum smiling, goodness gracious, it’s great,” said Hackney carer Jennifer Tobias.
She attended a tea dance at Shoreditch Town Hall with her 83-year-old mother Veronica, as part of Hackney’s dementia festival.
Tobias said: “Within moments of arriving Mum was on the dance floor singing and dancing.
“The festival means freedom, enjoyment with others, it means sharing with others, and prior to Covid it meant the same.”
She added: “It meant Mum could share stories with people from all over the world, it’s just having a bit more enjoyment and it’s nice for her to be around people from her age group.”
Tobias gave up her job working with children in care to look after Veronica, who was diagnosed with dementia in January 2017 and had surgery for breast cancer in 2019.
Before she developed dementia she attended six fitness classes a week.
Veronica was a banana farmer in Dominica and supplied Marks and Spencer and Safeway and has retained her love of the outdoors.
She went out most days during lockdown for exercise and loves being outside and taking the bus to Oxford Street.
Tobias is determined that her mother is not defined by her illness and said people living with dementia “should be able to have fun and laugh and dress up and listen to music and whatever they want to do”.
She advised other carers: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t do it on your own. I would tell everybody it’s your right to know what’s out there, what’s available and do not do it alone. There are amazing organisations, especially in Hackney.”
The services she finds helpful include the Memory Clinic on Felstead Street, run by East London Foundation Trust, Homerton University Hospital and the Dementia Society.
Mother and daughter also joined a garden party as part of the Namaste project for people with dementia, which is based at St Joseph’s Hospice.
Veronica enjoyed weekly hand massages from Namaste for 12 weeks before lockdown. The contact continued with weekly phone calls to help her stay connected.
Peabody hosted a garden party at St Peter’s House in Bethune Road – purpose-built homes for older people, including residents with dementia.
Yvette Harte, social inclusion coordinator for older people and sheltered housing, said Covid brought isolation for residents who could not have visitors.
She said: “We were blown away by the tea party.”
“People with dementia are not always able to convey how they feel but they show it with their actions and their actions speak volumes,” she added.
“No-one asked to leave. We actually had to tell one gentleman that it was time to go.”
Guests enjoyed afternoon tea, a chance to meet others and a singalong to songs including Sweet Caroline.
Ben Driscoll, Peabody’s area manager for older people’s services said: “It shows that people with dementia can have as good a time as anyone else.”
He said one carer brought her uncle to the party and he had hardly left his flat for the last year.
“It’s confidence-building,” said Driscoll.
He said the Alzheimer’s Society with their dementia advisers and Hackney Dementia Action Alliance are amongst the places carers can get information and support.
The dementia festival started in 2018 and this year saw some changes because of the pandemic.
Events included a film screening of Singin’ in the Rain at the Castle Cinema on Brooksby’s Walk, a Caribbean Tea Party hosted by Hackney Caribbean Elderly Organisation in Leswin Road, and an information event from Sunday Care Therapy.
Hackney’s dementia champion Cllr Yvonne Maxwell said: “Part of being dementia-friendly is doing all we can, as a community, to support people with dementia and their family and friends, for as long as possible. For people to do what they love for as long as they can, whether that’s singing, dancing, going out and about.
“Many of the events are a mix of people with dementia and those without, and younger people to break down barriers across the generations.”
She added: “Making people with dementia welcome and part of our community is everyone’s responsibility and our festival is a celebration.”
Cllr Maxwell said that with the pandemic, it was “emotional to see people back out and hear their stories of how much this was missed, but now to see activities and groups opening back out”.
“It has been a very difficult time for many, but for people with dementia many have faced issues of isolation and not seeing family,” she added.
People can watch storyteller John Kirk reimagine childhood stories in an online event hosted by Hackney Libraries at bit.ly/HackLibraryYT.