IPOH: Before she was diagnosed with dementia, Irene John had never held a paintbrush or done pottery.

The nurse-turned-language teacher is now preparing for her first art exhibition of paintings and pottery she made since her diagnosis in January 2020.

“When I first went to my art class, I told my teacher that I had never done pottery or painting before.

“I couldn’t even draw a straight line, but through the motivation of my teachers and husband, I am proud that I can now paint, do collages and make pottery,” she said in an interview at the Living Art Studio in Taman Canning here.

Irene, who is turning 80 later this month, said she was excited to have her first art exhibition called “Dancing With Dementia” at the People of Remarkable Talents (PORT) headquarters from June 23 – 26.

“After I was diagnosed with dementia, my husband took me to a dementia centre where they provided some activities, but I wasn’t into it. He then suggested that I make pottery as it would help with my nerves and motor skills.

“I attended the pottery class in October 2020 and started painting and doing collages in May last year. I would say that I did well because of two great teachers and a husband who motivated me.

“All these forms of art take time, patience and effort. There were days when I would come to class and wouldn’t be in the mood, so my teachers would let me rest and make me coffee,” she said.

Irene’s husband, Peter J. Bucher, said: “Before Irene went to art classes, I checked for all sorts of activities that would help her get through dementia.

“I even enrolled in an online programme by the University of Tasmania, Australia where they would discuss and talk about dementia, and that was when I suggested to my wife that she take up pottery lessons.

“Since taking the pottery and painting classes, I can see how much she has changed for the better.

And seeing how much she has progressed, I suggested exhibiting her artwork to her teacher. That may encourage people with dementia in the country to do art.”

Irene’s art teacher, Alice Ng, said painting and collage-making exercises helped Irene remember better.

“One of her most memorable works is a collage she made from shells she collected in Dungun, Terengganu.

“During one of our classes, we had a conversation that led to Irene sharing her memory of collecting the shells while she was there.

“She also shared her daily routine as a language teacher and how collecting the shells was among the first things she did in the morning as well as talking to the locals,” she said, adding that Irene was her first Malaysian student with dementia.