A story about living well with dementia through crafts, nature photography and art.
This article was written by a guest contributor, and the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.
My name is Gail. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 54.
What shocked me after receiving my diagnosis was the fact that I immediately became a dementia statistic, losing my identity.
It now appears my dementia has taken the forefront of who I am. Everyone seems to forget I am still the same person after a dementia diagnosis.
I owned my own business for 17 years embroidering teddy bears. I am the founder of Bears4u, teddy bears for all occasions.
It seems all those years are now not important to some, as all they see is a person with dementia!
Have I just become just a number, a dementia statistic, a sticker on top of a medical file?
It is no wonder I became a little depressed after my diagnosis. I found myself being ignored — it was as if I wasn’t allowed to voice my opinion anymore, all because I had dementia.
Artwork by Gail Gregory.
I retired from work not long after my diagnosis. Running a business alone was becoming increasingly difficult. This resulted in losing all sense of purpose.
I lost my identity. Who was I? What was I supposed to do with my life?
I was constantly looking for things to occupy my day. I felt completely lost and alone.
I was encouraged to join a group. It was full of people 10 to 20 years my senior, some much more advanced in their dementias. It was a very scary time — was this my life now?
I was offered dementia drugs, but I turned them down, as I am not one for taking medication at the best of times.
I decided to let dementia progress naturally. I wanted to be in control of my own dementia. This when my life started to change.
Artwork by Gail Gregory.
I started to look for things that would keep my body and brain active. I needed stimulation. I was determined not to give up and sit in a chair all day. I was going to live my life the best way that I possibly could.
I started walking every day with my four-legged friend, Toby. I started crafting again, some crafts more successful than others. Most importantly, I tried!
My approach to living well with dementia is stimulation and lots of positivity. Dementia has given me a great gift — it has changed my outlook on life. I now try to stay as positive as I can and keep my brain active. I do believe that keeping myself occupied will have benefits towards keeping dementia at bay. This is exactly what I get from crafting, nature photography and art.
I have always liked crafts, but not to the extent of all the arts and crafts I have learned since my diagnosis. Yes — I am learning new skills while living with dementia!
Artwork by Gail Gregory.
I shared my crafts online, hoping that others living with dementia might be inspired to try crafting. I decided to make little videos and upload them to YouTube for everyone to see. It was like an instruction tool. I have done all sorts of crafts and shared them over Zoom calls and social media.
It is amazing what you can achieve through crafting together with others, including reminiscing through crafting, drawing and colouring.
Conversations flow. There will be fun and laughter, and people will come alive. What a fantastic way to communicate — keeping the brain active and those fingers and hands moving.
"My camera is now my memory."
– Gail Gregory
Camera and nature are other gifts dementia brought to me. My camera took me into the outdoor world of nature — a place so calming and so special, it’s like being in a different world.
Photo by Gail Gregory.
Time seems to stand still, I am consumed with the beautiful sounds of birdsong, the hustle and bustle of everyday life is forgotten, and there’s just me and beautiful nature.
I have been so very lucky to encounter some very special moments with the wild birds. They seem to trust me. Now I have them feeding from my hand.
My camera is also a way of holding on to some very special memories — my camera is now my memory.
I can capture my walks and keep them, reliving them over and over again. It’s just so wonderful.
"Dementia just disappears when I am concentrating on a piece of artwork or walking with nature."
– Gail Gregory
My photos also inspire me to paint and sketch. I can capture moments through art from the photographs. One of the most surprising things for me is that I hadn’t painted or sketched anything before dementia. In fact, my art teacher at school said I was totally useless.
Now I am producing pieces of art while relaxing to stimulate my brain. I express myself through art and I can portray how dementia makes me feel, just like poetry. Dementia just disappears when I am concentrating on a piece of artwork or walking with nature.
In my experience, crafts, nature photography and art can benefit your well-being by:
Reducing stress levels
Alleviating the symptoms of anxiety and depression
Helping with feelings of loneliness
Keeping the brain active
Providing a feeling of achievement
My artwork and crafts have mainly been recognized since my dementia diagnosis, however some of my photos were displayed at local libraries. They were even used for the backdrop on the ITV weather channel, who recognized my work to be from me and not just from a person living with dementia.
One thing I know for sure is that we all need to look at the positives in dementia. We need to highlight the things people living with dementia can do. No one needs reminding of what we can’t do.
I thank dementia for showing me crafts, nature and art, and for bringing much positivity to my life. It’s a beautiful world out there if you just take the time to look all around you and listen to the sounds of nature.
Gail Gregory was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s disease at 54 years old.
Though she stopped working shortly after her diagnosis in 2019, she keeps busy by walking every day, gardening and crafting.
Gregory shares her honest experiences of living with Alzheimer’s disease in her blog, Too Young for Dementia: Journey with Diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer’s. She aims to live life as best as she can and enjoy every minute of it.