Dementia & Us: Personal Reflections

Our Head of Productions, Paul Myles, has been working on Dementia & Us – a groundbreaking 2-part series for BBC 2 following four people with dementia and their families over the course of two years. The first episode aired on Tuesday night, where we were introduced to Chris, Marion, Gilly and Clover, as they shared the ups and downs of life with a changing brain.

Dementia is an umbrella term for many different conditions and each experience of dementia is unique. It is something that many of us will have some form of experience with, and ahead of the first episode, Paul reflected on his experience of striking the right balance.

There’s no denying, there are some difficult and emotional scenes, and some may not feel in a position to watch at this particular time. However, as someone who has spent much of the past two years as a carer for my partner’s mum who has dementia, as well as putting my father into care during the lifespan of this project, I found the process of making the film very constructive and therapeutic. 

Amidst all the challenges, the families in these films provide a template for how to tackle the challenges that dementia brings with empathy and love – they show that life does go on. As our narrator Dreane puts it, “dementia is something you learn to live with and not just die from.” We see how varied the story of dementia turns out to be when it plays out over time – not just a tale of loss and decline, but also one of hope, humour and those unexpected twists that life can throw in the way.

This is especially true as the focus of the stories start to sharpen in episode 2, where the families demonstrate that dementia is about acceptance, as well as adaptation. They are courageous, capturing this in a raw and intimate way, in the hope that others can learn and be better equipped for the struggles that may lie ahead. 

Lastly, as a cautionary note – these films will in no way show the whole breadth of the experience of dementia. They simply show four families at a particular time in their lives and may not reflect everyone’s individual experience. Dementia is complex and everyone’s experience of it is unique – there are over a hundred types of dementia and each person interacts with the progress of dementia in their own way.

I’ve felt a huge responsibility when making this documentary, as almost everyone I speak to has their own experience of dementia, and there will soon be a million people living with dementia in the UK alone, with millions more in turn who are indirectly affected. Striking the right balance was incredibly hard. We wanted to show that there was hope and that life goes on, but also didn’t want to go too far the other way and sugarcoat what can be an incredibly challenging and upsetting time.

This has been a deeply personal project for me and it is great to see the conversations emerging as a result of this story of dementia, told by people living with dementia.

If you have been affected by the first episode or are looking for further information and support, the following organisations provide incredible resources and insight to help better understand the condition. Their respective resources and peer-to-peer support work were invaluable for us and our research.

Or visit the Information and Support – Dementia page set up by the BBC with further links to organisations and services that might be able to help, as well as links to the Music Memories site that uses music to help people reconnect with memories.

The next and final episode is out Tuesday 12th October on BBC 2 at 9 pm.