Dementia in the minds of characters and readers

IntroductionDementia image

Paula Devine and Gemma Carney (ARK Ageing Programme) are collaborating with Dr Jane Lugea, a Lecturer in English Language at Queen’s University Belfast to explore the potential of fiction featuring characters with dementia to improve awareness of and empathy towards people living with the condition.  The research has been awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council Early Career Research Grant and runs from May 2020 to October 2021.

This project explores the representation of dementia in contemporary fiction, using a cognitive stylistic approach to reveal how the minds of characters with the condition are constructed in language. Extracts from the fiction are then used in Reading Groups with four key stakeholder groups: people in the early stages of dementia, caregivers, trainee social workers and general public. The readers’ responses to the fiction will establish the potential of dementia fiction to facilitate awareness and empathy, as well as feed back into our understanding of the literary language and its cognitive effects.

By appointing fiction writer and programmer of older people’s arts projects Jan Carson as Outreach Officer and by working with dementia charities and the Northern Ireland Museums Council, this project has impact built in to its design and delivery.

Find out more on the Dementia Fiction blog, or follow the project on Twitter.

31 August 2022: Launch of A Little Unsteadily into Light

Cover of a new book called A Little Unsteadily Into Light

In this anthology of fourteen new short stories, commissioned and edited by Jan Carson and Jane Lugea, some of the best contemporary writers powerfully and poignantly explore the depths and breadth of the real dementia experience, traversing age, ethnicity, class and gender, sex and consent. 

Importantly, these pieces of short fiction disrupt the perceived notions of what dementia is and, in their diversity, honesty and authenticity begin to normalise an illness that affects so many and break down the stigma endured by those living with it every day.

The book is published by New Island Press, and the contributing authors are Suad Aldarra, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Jan Carson, Elaine Feeney, Oona Frawley, Sinead Gleeson, Anna Jean Hughes, Caleb Klaces, Naomi Kruger, Henrietta McKervey, Paul McVeigh, Mary Morrissy, Nuala O'Connor, and Chris Wright.

15-16 September 2021: Dementia Fiction Festival 2021

This festival/conference hybrid brought together a unique mix of academics, writers, organisations, carers and people living with dementia to discuss how we write about dementia with honesty, imagination and integrity. 

Click here for more information and registration details.

Click here for the Festival Programme.

Click here to watch videos of the event on YouTube.

27 March 2021: Dementia: feel it through fiction

This interactive talk with Jane Lugea explored how dementia is represented in fictional language, how readers respond to it, and why.

This event was part of the Imagine: The Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics - click here to view a video of the event.

17 February 2021: Somebody I Used To Know with Wendy Mitchell

In this online event, Jan Carson and Jane Lugea chatted to Wendy about her experience living with and writing about dementia, alongside Anna Wharton, who helped co-author Wendy’s memoir. The event was part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival.