Soul shines through in photos of residents with dementia

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Soul shines through in photos of residents with dementia


A poignant photographic exhibition of residents who have dementia is adding life and soul to the walls of a residential aged care facility in Victoria.

Aurrum Healesville lifestyle and wellness team leader Sylvi Sanders (Kreinberg) photographed 23 residents for the exhibition, titled “I’m still here”.

Ms Sanders said the permanent exhibition, hung in a corridor of the Memory Support Unit, also features printed statements: “These faces are of you and me. Please see me”; “I have a story. Listen to me. See me. Know me” and “I'm still here. I'm still me”.

“It’s a series that shows that people may have dementia, but their soul is still there,” said Ms Sanders.

“If you take the time to stop and be with them, their soul really shines through, and I think that is what these photographs have captured.”

The process reminded staff, friends, family and visitors that “each resident is a beautiful individual”.

Ms Sanders said the project seemed to trigger residents’ early memories of posing to have their photo taken, as they responded to the camera enthusiastically.

“It was just the two of us and we would go to their room or a quiet place. It didn’t matter how far progressed their dementia was, they really connected with the camera and me,” said Ms Sanders, who is a freelance photographer.

“I really felt really privileged because I got to spend lovely quality time with them.”

An enrolled nurse from the Memory Support Unit, Lisa Allenby, said the exhibition has had a positive impact on staff, residents and families.

“Everyone absolutely loves the photos and they’ve made a positive difference in so many ways,” she said.

“They show the essence of the person and some show a side to people that we didn’t know about before. There was one man playing a musical instrument and we hadn’t realised he was a musician.

“That is so important, because you can’t let dementia define the person. They are their own individual, they are valued and loved, and they matter.”

She said if residents are agitated and having a bad day, taking them to the photographs can encourage them to talk about their background and share memories from when they were younger.

“It changes the dynamic and they really calm down,” she said.

Sometimes residents recognise the family members of people in the portraits, and lead them over to admire the photographs.

Aurrum Healesville also hangs a portrait of each resident outside the door of their room. Miss Allenby said the photographs are gifted to families when their loved one passes away.

“Having such a beautiful portrait of their mum or dad is a real comfort to them.”

Aurrum plans to replicate the exhibition at its other residential aged care facilities.