Dementia artwork captures objects that trigger people's memories

Hundreds of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) students and staff have been pictured holding their most memorable items to highlight the experience of those living with dementia.

Wedding rings, war medals, photos, teddy bears, pets and hand-written letters were among the personal items people were captured clutching onto as part of DMU’s huge new montage.

Dementia Week Objects of Reference WEB

A glimpse of what the 'Objects of Reference' montage will look like

Nearly 300 people selected just one much-loved item that triggers memories of their past or current life experiences. Within dementia care, the nature of the condition means it is easier to remember using items that are emotional signifiers of personal experiences.

One woman said she wanted to be pictured holding hands with her husband, who has dementia, as she said he was ‘the most important thing to her’ and she ‘always wanted to remember him.’

The photos, which feature only hands holding objects rather than faces, will be used side-by-side to form a larger montage of a man’s face.

The ‘Objects of Reference’ montage will be unveiled on the Vijay Patel Terrace on Monday, May 14 as part of a series of events to mark Dementia Awareness Week.

Dementia Objects of Reference hands pic WEB

One of the almost 300 photos that will make up the dementia-awareness artwork

It has taken Jonjo Elliott several months to photograph people from across the university and put together the piece of art.

The Projects and Outreach Coordinator at #DMULocal, DMU’s initiative to deliver a lasting positive impact, said: “People brought along absolutely anything that meant something to them. The objects were symbolic to them as individuals.

“One person had the last letter their grandma had written, another turned up with their child’s first teddy bear, while the woman who said her husband was her chosen object was truly heart-breaking.

“People also used it as an opportunity to open up and talk about their memories. I heard so many emotional stories as I was taking the photos.”

He added:  “It’s such an impressive and inspirational piece of art. Some people will see all the smaller photos of hands holding objects of reference first, while others will have their eyes drawn to the larger photo of a face. The face demonstrates how anyone can be diagnosed with dementia.”

DMU is a proud supporter of Dementia Awareness Week, which encourages everyone to unite against dementia –to help find a cure, improve care and offer understanding. The key theme of this year’s awareness week is making sure nobody faces dementia alone.

The university will also be hosting a Dementia Awareness Event for students and staff on Wednesday, May 16. DMU dementia leads will talk about dementia in their fields to provide a wider understanding, and people will be informed how to reduce the risk of diagnosis and help those already diagnosed.  It is hoped that this will add to the more than 500 staff and students who have already trained as Dementia Ambassadors. 

Students and staff are also being encouraged to swim as many lengths as they can during a Sponsored Swim on Friday, May 18 at the QEII Leisure Centre. All money raised will go to Dementia UK to help fund Admiral Nurses, who provide specialist dementia support that families need.  They are hoping to smash the £1,000 mark as a similar event last year raised £966.

There are thought to be about 3,500 people with dementia in Leicester and 22,000 in the East Midlands region – however many more people have dementia but do not know it.

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DMU's Chris Knifton from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Chris Knifton, Senior Lecturer in Dementia in DMU’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, said it was important to raise awareness about the condition, in the hope that people will be diagnosed earlier, and find the support they need.

He said: “In developing the ‘Objects of Reference’ artwork we echo the point that people who have a diagnosis of dementia continue to hold, like us all, a host of cherished memories and personal histories, biographies and accomplishments, hopes and fears, adventures and opportunities. 

“The objects of reference not only tap where possible into these many emotional experiences and thoughts but also serve to unite us and bring loved ones together.  Using objects of reference we not only find ourselves, we also find each other. 

“This project is hoped to serve as a permanent reminder of this shared value inherent within and across the DMU community here in Leicester, heralding in the launch of Dementia Awareness Week.”

Chris is also an Admiral Nurse and DMU was the first university in the country to have a specialist dementia care nurse among its staff. There are only 235 Admiral Nurses in the country.


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DMU also works with the Alzheimer’s Society to host regular service-user representative panels for those with dementia to provide feedback on new policies.

To take part in any of DMU’s Dementia Awareness Week events, email

If anyone has any questions or concerns about dementia, phone the Dementia UK national helpline on 0800 888 6678 or email

Posted on Tuesday 1 May 2018

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