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Learning to deal with dementia

Norman Mc Namara is a man who suffers from dementia. He had the great idea of making this video to tell us something about his experience and bringing up important topics like stigma and communication.

From my perspective we need to open our heart and our mind when we have to face this disease. Dementia is a very challenging disease that affects our brain and so many other body functions linked to it. But, most important, it affects our memory and our consciousness: the person feels confused, disoriented, not only whilst doing daily activities (such as walking, shopping, etc.), but also living her relationships. This last aspect can be very challenging and can bring a lot of misuderstandings, expecially within the family environment.

As Norman underlines, we need to use Common Sense. In fact Common Sense tells us to observe and listen to the person while she is speaking to us, and to be kind and helpful in a reciprocal way. “Dementia” is the name of an illness, a person who suffers from dementia is still a person and not her disease. So let them to talk to us about their experience, I think we have a lot to learn yet and they can be good teachers.

Another important aspect, in my opinion, is that we memorize our experiences within all our body and not just in our mind. This way of memorizing experiences goes on for all of our lives, and also when our cognitive abilities don’t work properly anymore. In fact people living with dementia are still learning and memorizing, but not in the “ususal” way. Also, they can re-live their memories through their senses, without necessarily using their regular visual and verbal ways. 

Basically, the person’s feelings are still working. We need to learn a new way of communication through their senses and feelings, and particularly when words start losing their meaning. Always keeping in mind that that person is still there, with their story and embodied memories, we can communicate through our body, our facial expression, our hands, etc. (for example, with a gentle touch, holding their hands, laughing with them). The secret is to stay in the present moment with the person, following the flow of our experience, even if it looks bizzare.

We can learn to be very creative as well, using any kind of art we like: listening to music, playing music, painting, dancing, etc. I have a wonderful memory of my Grandpa when we were listening to a Pavarotti’s CD and, at the end of the performance, we were clapping our hands as if we were there: my Grandpa kept his eyes closed all the time and fully enjoying the music: he believed it was a real concert, and it was obviously a fantastic experience too.

I hope you can understand now what I mean by saying “Open your heart and your mind.”

Finally, I want to share with you another article written by Kate Swaffer:

And a book and its following movie:

2 thoughts on “Learning to deal with dementia”

  1. It seems to me that a lot of what you say here about communication with people with dementia would also apply to communication with autistic people. Both may have poorly functioning verbal capacities and need to be communicated with in other ways.

    1. Thank you Bonnie for your comment.
      I am agree with you. Our habit to communicate focusing on the verbal language is very limitating sometimes, particularly when we are communicating with people who have verbal or cognitive impairments.

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