Upcoming: ‘Dancing with Dementia’ Art Festival to Highlight Therapeutic Benefits of Art and More

By Mei Kuan

The four-day ‘Dancing with Dementia’ art festival will unfold from June 23 to 26 in Ipoh to create better awareness about dementia and highlight the therapeutic benefits of art in dementia care.

Ipoh Echo recently caught up with the organiser, Peter J. Bucher or fondly known as Pak Peter, to learn more about the upcoming campaign as he reflected on his own journey as a care-partner. 

Swiss by birth and Perakean by choice, the amiable Pak Peter has chosen to call Ipoh his home after working for more than 20 years in several parts of Malaysia. 

The semi-retired hotelier became the primary care-partner for his wife, Irene John (Madame Kanga) when she was diagnosed with mild vascular dementia in January 2020.

Presently an advocate for dementia and care-partners of people living with dementia, he has observed the sad reality of poor dementia awareness and the stigma attached to it.

“Nobody wants to talk about dementia, it’s a taboo subject in the local community. I know only a handful of care-partners here in Ipoh, and only around 5% of care-partners are male in Malaysia. These facts have encouraged me to become a dedicated dementia care-partner and advocate. Quality life matters!” Pak Peter pointed out.

Thus, he had to educate himself quickly at the beginning of his journey as a care-partner. After attending several weekend online courses organised by the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia, he participated in an 8-week course, “Understand Dementia” by the University of Tasmania which he found eye-opening.

“However, the top point was the introduction of Christine Bryden books, ‘Dancing with Dementia’ and ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us!’. Her tireless commitment to global dementia advocacy and two books have become essential sources of inspiration and motivation to Irene and I. It is a must-read for any care-partner and their loved ones living with dementia,” enthused Pak Peter, adding that the name of the upcoming festival in Ipoh is inspired by the celebrated author’s book of the same title.

“We have become very active members of the local ‘Living Beyond Dementia’ group, spearheaded by Dr. Cecilia Chan who conducts regular online talks on dementia care. Our group recently joined ‘Reimagining Dementia’, an international self-help movement for people living with dementia,” he shared while also expressing his gratitude for a well-experienced care-partner in Kuala Lumpur with whom he frequently exchanges notes.

According to Pak Peter, Irene has created countless art pieces since she began her artistic journey in 2020. She is living life to the fullest through pottery, painting, shell-collage and music. This newfound creativity is her expression of dancing with dementia, thus living better with the condition.

“A few months ago, Irene’s two art teachers mooted the idea of holding an art exhibition and workshops at the end of June, in conjunction with her 80th birthday. Art and music have now become the vital battery charger for Irene,” he explained.

To be hosted by PORT at the Black House along Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah (Tiger Lane), the 4-day Dancing with Dementia art festival will celebrate Irene’s life and creative talent in addition to creating a better understanding of dementia.

Set to highlight the benefits of art as an alternative and inspiring therapy, there will be an exhibition showcasing Irene’s creative creations and outdoor workshops to be conducted by Ng Sook Peng, a clay artist as well as Alice Ng, a creative art facilitator. 

“There is a vast educational deficit on dementia despite the fact that 15 million new cases are registered every year globally. In Malaysia the current estimate suggests about 10% of Malaysians of age 65 and above have dementia and the numbers are fast increasing! It is not the disease which causes the challenges – it is the environment we live in,” he stressed.

Details of the ‘Dancing with Dementia’ art festival as follows:

Art Exhibition: Thursday 23 June to Sunday 26 June, 10am to 5pm

Pottery Workshop: Friday 24 June & Sunday 26 June, 10am to 12:30pm

Creative Art Workshop: Thursday 23 June & Saturday 25 June, 10am to 12:30pm

(Attendance for the open air workshops is limited to a maximum of 10 persons. Priority will be given to people with dementia and care-partners)

Matinee with Music & Songs: Saturday and Sunday, 2:30pm to 4:30pm

To find out more, contact Nardhirah of PORT at 012 428 0184 (Whatsapp only).

As the 75-year-old Pak Peter keeps moving forward, here is his next vision: “To create and sustain a bi-monthly Dementia Cafe gathering in Ipoh.” 

He is currently searching for a suitable venue with a nostalgic ambiance and safe access for people living with dementia.

Interested readers can reach Pak Peter at 019 574 3572 (WhatsApp).

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