Dementia related to ageing is a. progressive, incurable condition, but there are still many ways in which people with this problem can be helped to maximise their quality of life—and some of those approaches are quite surprising!
Research shows that old people with problems around dementia and memory experience significantly worse symptoms if their lives feel meaningless. Some care homes have experimented with introducing pets, such as cats, into the home environment. While this undoubtedly is an irritation to the cleaners, the impact on the patients can be very surprising. Many patients react very well to having pets in their environment and gain a sense of purpose from caring for them—feeding them, stroking them, and interacting with them. Both the physical contact with an affectionate animal, and the sense of doing something useful, can contribute to a reduction in the severity of symptoms.
Other eldercare environments have experimented with sharing space with kindergartens or having kindergarten children come into homes for the elderly to visit. While obviously this sort of scenario calls for careful supervision and a lot of attention to health and safety (from everyone’s point of view) there can be benefits to both the elderly patients and the children. Seeing small children at play, and having the opportunity to interact with them, can foster a sense of well-being and of purpose, with positive benefits for the elderly. From the children’s point of view, it is useful to break down barriers and learn that old people are not scary or to be avoided, but part of our society.
Other experiments that have given encouraging results include combining student (third level) accommodation with elder care. Students receive subsidised accommodation in return for a small amount of care work and social interaction with patients. For elderly patients, interacting with young, enthusiastic students can be a positive and stimulating experience that can even help with memory problems.
More simply, it is important to know that patients with dementia and memory problems frequently have better recall of their childhood and younger years than of adulthood. Attempting to engage them in conversation about current affairs is likely to prove frustrating for all concerned. Instead, when they are prompted to talk about their childhoods, memories can come flooding back. As memories are often attached to songs and music, a lot of patients with dementia and memory disorders respond positively to songs that were popular when they were young and may enjoy listening to them or even singing along.
While it is immensely distressing to see someone we love suffer with dementia and memory loss, it is important to remember that they are still there—and that there are still ways in which we can help their life be as fulfilling as possible.
WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT THE ISSUES IN THIS ARTICLE?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.