Centre named after Iris

February 1, 2002

A leading dementia expert has praised the film Iris for "raising the level of debate and discussion" about the disease.

The film, about the life of academic philosopher and novelist Dame Iris Murdoch, includes her struggle with Alzheimer's disease when she was cared for by her husband, John Bayley, emeritus professor of English literature at Oxford University.

Almost 1 million people in the United Kingdom have been diagnosed with dementia.

Mary Marshall, director of the Dementia Services Development Centre at Stirling University, said the centre would shortly be rehoused in a unique £2 million centre dedicated to Iris Murdoch on the suggestion of Professor Bayley. The Iris Murdoch Centre, promoting research and development in dementia care, is the first public building designed to be "dementia-friendly", avoiding creating distress and confusion.

Professor Marshall said: "You can always see where you want to go and are not dependent on remembering or working it out."

"It is not noisy, so you don't get stimulation overload. There is a dementia-friendly garden, which is safe, draws people into it and gives them something to walk round so they are not walking aimlessly."

The centre, expected to open in April, will include quotations from Dame Iris's philosophical works engraved on glass. It will also feature art work by people with dementia.

Stirling is researching the use of the arts in helping people with dementia to communicate and express their creativity.

Professor Marshall said: "One of our agendas here is to try to raise expectations of the potential and capacity of people with dementia. You may lose cognitive ability, but the loss of feelings and practical skills and creativity is quite different, and poorly understood."

Recent research from America has borne out Stirling's findings that people with dementia have often been through a phase of extraordinary creativity, Professor Marshall said.

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