Can You See What I See? – Conveying the lived experience of those with dementia

Can You See What I See? – Conveying the lived experience of those with dementia

By Aideen O'Flaherty

A book that features illustrations inspired by interactions and conversations with people who have dementia was recently launched in Tallaght University Hospital (TUH).

‘Can You See What I See?’ was created by TUH Artist-in-Residence, Caroline Hyland, following on from the positive feedback she received when she held an art exhibition in Rua Red and Tallaght Library under the same title in recent years.

Caroline Hyland Artist in Residenc2e TUH 1

Caroline Hyland (Artist-in-Residence, TUH)

The detailed artwork in the book aims to convey the lived experience of those with dementia, and their loved ones, in an accessible and informative format.

Ali Baker, TUH arts officer, and artist Caroline Hyland told The Echo about their decision to release ‘Can You See What I See?’ as a book, why they feel it is important for the experiences of people with dementia to be depicted through art, and how the arts can help hospital patients.

The artwork that forms ‘Can You See What I See?’ was previously exhibited in Rua Red in 2018 and Tallaght Library in 2019. What response did the exhibition get?

The feedback was very positive. Many stated that the exhibitions helped them to see the person and not just the disease.

Some reported they were not aware of sensory challenges and others felt art was a good way to portray a powerful message.

There were requests for the work to travel around the country and to be disseminated in a book format so that more people could access the information.

The overwhelmingly positive response reinforced Caroline’s passion and determination that this art project had a real potential to influence how society sees a person living with dementia and to continue to develop it further.

Why do you think it’s important for dementia patients’ lived experience of the condition to be depicted through art?

For many people, including those that have dementia, text may not be or no longer is accessible.

In general, good visual imagery can support text and make information more inclusive and accessible.

Art is another form of communication which can complement, explain and expand the written word.

The ‘Can You See What I See?’ illustrations are not transient and allow time for the viewer to explore, interact with and emotionally respond to them.

They also allow space for conversations to evolve. There are no right or wrong responses to visual imagery.

This can assist in taking the pressure off an individual to ‘get it right’.

Why did you decide to release ‘Can You See What I See?’ as a book?

After the success and positive reaction to the exhibitions, artist talks, tours and workshops, it felt like a natural progression to create a book that could disseminate the work further and reach more people and more communities.

Some people don’t feel part of the art world and can be hesitant or reluctant to engage with art exhibitions. In book format, it is no longer an art exhibition but instead an illustrated book.

People can take it away, share it with family, friends and work colleagues and dip in and out of it at their own convenience.

What is the aim of the book?

Dementia touches all our lives and it is important that we all feel informed. It is not just a health issue but a social issue too.

In Caroline’s own words: ‘My granny had dementia but that is not who she was. When Granny died, I wanted to face my fears and find out more.

I looked for any opportunity I could to hear the voice of those who have dementia and the people that support them.’ Caroline then used her skill-set as an illustrator and educator, with a background in occupational therapy, to share her learning with others.

In this book, she is trying to convey that as human beings, no matter what our diagnosis, disease or disability, we need to be seen and treated as people first.

Caroline previously said that she believes information can be made more accessible to people through visual art, do you agree?

Good visuals support text and reduce the barriers to information for all, so I totally agree. Caroline brings a unique skill set to the arts and health world.

She has an acute ability to listen first, absorb the information and through the art of illustration she celebrates the story.

In this particular body of work the illustrations are supported by text, which complement each other very well and reduce the barriers to information for all.

As arts officer in TUH, what role do you think the arts play in helping people who are in hospital?

Art can be a leveller, particularly in a hospital setting where a person can feel out of control and vulnerable in a medical world.

As a ‘patient’ they are there to be assessed and treated. Their health is at the forefront of conversations and who they are outside can become lost in the chaos of an acute setting.

A visit from a hospital artist or an art experience can be like a breath of fresh air, and provide a space to be themselves and share a moment.

For some, the art experience is about enjoyment, a chance to be in the moment, to chat about everyday life, or a way of incorporating a little therapy into their day in an enjoyable way.

‘Can You See What I See?’ is available now at for €16 plus P&P.

All proceeds from the book will go to Living Well with Dementia (LWwD), a HSE-supported community project in South Dublin.

For further information contact

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