Well – there you go!
A large scale trial led by the University of Exeter, Kings College London and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust concluded that Person-centred activities combined with just one hour of social interaction can improve quality of life and reduce agitation for people with dementia living in care homes, whilst saving money.
Ever since I became involved in caring for my mother back in 2011, I have fought against the general perception that a dementia diagnosis meant that normal life should go on hold, you suddenly develop a love of Bingo and live in some bygone era..
Many of the generally accepted activities in care settings are, in my opinion, rather patronising. They stereotype elderly people, particularly those with dementia, in a way that no other sector of society is subjected to. As a regular visitor to my mother’s care home for the last 2 years of her life, I found that props provided a kick-start for conversations that attracted the attention of other residents. My visits to my own mother were soon being regularly enjoyed by a whole group of people. They loved to talk about their homes, gardens, children, the dresses they wore, jobs they did, foods they cooked and a whole host of details about their likes and dislikes. We were, intact, recreating the coffee mornings with their friends that they had always enjoyed! I was able to enter into their world and, even if the same story was continually repeated, I knew that by showing an interest in hearing it, I was adding huge pleasure to that person’s day by giving just a small amount of mine. Talking is the very best therapy and listening is a skill that is undervalued in elder care. Feeling listened to can have such a profound effect on a person’s self respect, making them feel happier and more content, thus avoiding conflict and the “agitation” referred to in the study results.
We now understand why a person with dementia might recall something from their youth more reliably than whether they have eaten breakfast. The connection between long and short term memory and the belief that people with dementia live in the past is not something that I can relate to. Most of the people that I have met are forgetful, have various coordination or, like my mother, speech difficulties and enjoy reminiscing. They did not, however, live in the past and I, as I see it, our job as a carer, is to try to keep people engaged in the world in which they live for a long as possible. We can stimulate conversations by using images, sounds, scents. We can soothe by gently stroking an arm or hand. We can bring the outdoors in to those who find changing environments stressful. We can make sure their surroundings smell nice and ensure that they are carefully dressed ( repeatedly, if necessary) and groomed to the standard they would have wished before dementia.
It’s all about dignity and respect and seeing people and individuals – just the same as everyone else.