Alzheimers disease is, sadly, only one form of Dementia albeit the most well-known. Other forms are vascular dementia and dementia with Lewys bodies. It is a degenerative illness with progressive memory loss and, as yet, there is no cure.
This review is written about dementia as a whole and not about facts, figures, explanations or medical treatment, it is about how you, as a person, can help your loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia.
Most of us know, or will know, someone who has been diagnosed with dementia at some point in our lives. Knowing your loved one is going to 'disappear' and eventually be a 'shell' of their former self is heartbreaking.
Dementia is sometimes still a bit of a 'taboo' subject and for those concerned it can be a highly emotional, frustrating and isolating time.
Whilst there are GP's, hospitals and health care professionals, they cannot tell you what will happen for definite as dementia affects people in many different ways. Some become violent, some seem to drift off to a world of their own and some just refuse to accept what is happening to them.
The short term memory suffers first, the forgetfulness, the confusion as to where they are or where they are going.
One could never describe with any accuracy the immense range of emotions a family go through. We as 'outsiders' can only hazard a guess.
For the past few years the Mental Health professionals have taken a different approach to dementia known as Person Centred Care.
i.e. the care is centred around the individual, not the individual around the care as everybodys needs are different.
Reminiscence techniques are becoming more popular within the Health service as 'add-ons' to existing care. These techniques are used to help give mental stimulation, encourage communication and to try and encourage input from all the family to keep them as a 'unit' and not become 'divorced' through the illness.
The following are two Reminiscence ideas that may be helpful for your loved one :
LIFE STORY BOOK
Most of us will remember This Is Your Life on the T.V, well a life story book is exactly the same with pictures!
As previously stated the long term memory remains intact whilst the short term deteriorates.
Therefore arrange to spend an hour or so a week to put together their life story. A scrapbook or folder, some photos and a few pages of writing is all you need.
Start with where and when they were born, maybe they have a photo of the house they spent their childhood in. They might remember the garden or a particular type of flower. Where did they go to school? Names of mates? or their very first job. Maybe their wedding day.
Place the photos onto some card with maybe a few lines of what/where it is. (If you don't want to use the originals then make photocopies)
PLEASE REMEMBER that it is what THEY can remember, if they seem to struggle move on to something else, you can always come back to it another time.
Not only will this promote mental stimulation through the reminiscence process it is also a way of 'finding' your loved one again. For them it will be an exciting thing to do and they have something to look forward to each week. Common sense will tell you that maybe one week they might be too tired or not in the mood.
Imagine how nice it will be to see their life story transformed in a 'book' ! You might discover things you didn't know about them. They could have played a musical instrument or discover how much their first wage was!
A life story book is fun to create at a time when laughter and pleasure may be at a minimum. Just remember to go at their pace.
Find a box! A plastic storage box, a shoebox, even a box from the supermarket. Any old box! Spend some time decorating the outside. Fill it with items that hold special memories. A little note or description could accompany each item as a 'remembering' tool. It could be a piece of wedding cake, your first pair of proper shoes, medals, anything really.
Once a Life Story book or Memory box has been completed, that doesn't mean the end of anything. You'd be surprised at how often they can be looked at, even if you hear the same stories time and time again, it is encouraging the person with dementia and aiding communication.
Also music is a good reminiscence aid. Sometimes loved ones may forget names, places, their address but they will probably remember all the words to a favourite song. Try it sometime!
These ideas may not work for everyone, nor be suitable. Nor have I personally lost someone to dementia. However I have worked for a dementia charity that uses these techniques with our clients. To have something different to do, to encourage them, to be patient and listen, to provide emotional support to the carer and family is invaluable in this busy world of today where people no longer seem to have time for one another.
An hour or so a week to provide mental stimulation for them, fun for you both does not sound a lot but you will discover things you never knew and give your loved one the chance to use that long term memory and reminisce.
Above all, your loved one is a PERSON with dementia, not a person with DEMENTIA.
Reminiscence courses and information varies depending on your health authority but using 'reminiscence' in a search engine will bring you results if you are interested in further info.
Even if this information only helps one person, then one is better than none.
Thank you for reading