Theresa Knight shares how Methodist Homes Association (MHA) became a specialist consultant on a dementia storyline for long-running ITV soap Emmerdale that has been lauded by fans and critics alike for its accuracy and realism.
For almost two years, MHA, which operates care homes, retirement living and community-based Live at Home schemes, has been advising Emmerdale on its storyline involving village vicar Ashley Thomas (played by John Middleton) developing stroke-related vascular dementia.
From our initial call and meeting, through to John and Charlotte Bellamy (who plays his on-screen wife Laurel) visiting MHA’s Glen Rosa care home in Ilkley, Yorkshire, as part of their research, commenting on scripts and advising on story developments, MHA has been fully involved in the storyline and has been impressed by the commitment by ITV to tell Ashley’s story as accurately and realistically as possible.
On their very first meeting with John and researcher Liam Johnson at ITV, MHA was able to point out things like how people living with dementia wouldn’t walk on the patterned carpeting they had at the studios as the black squares would appear as holes to them.
They spoke to them about how the spatial awareness of someone living with dementia is affected and the show took this forward into the special episode they broadcast in December 2016. This programme was shown from Ashley’s point of view and included depicting how he struggled to walk down a short flight of steps and how familiar items became distorted and not quite as they seemed. The show changed the wallpaper and furniture on the screen set and used actors who looked similar to the show’s stars to help depict how someone living with dementia sees the world.
MHA has pointed out where ITV hadn’t got things quite right in scenes and scripts, and gave comments on the recent episodes depicting life in a care home, letting them know what would actually happen and what wouldn’t.
Fans have seen how Ashley has been enjoying music in recent weeks after MHA outlined to Emmerdale its specialist music therapy service for its residents who are living with dementia. And while the show hasn’t depicted a one-to-one specialist music therapy session, it’s highlighted how music and the arts can help people living with dementia.
And it’s not just Ashley’s story the programme has portrayed well. Emmerdale has captured how dementia affects family and friends. Over the past 18 months, viewers will have seen how his condition and deterioration has affected wife Laurel and their children, Gabby, Arthur and baby Dottie, as well as Ashley’s father Sandy and their circle of friends.
And, as Emmerdale’s series producer Iain McLeod said: “It is such a sensitive subject and something that is close to people’s day-to-day experiences as so many hundreds of thousands of people and their families live with it.
“We took great care and spoke to the best people we could to make sure we got the detail right.”