Saturday, 9 November 2013

When words aren't enough

Many of us will have known somebody who has some form of dementia but very little is known about how to communicate effectively with those who suffer from it. Granted, there are different types of dementia, but again, this is a little known fact. The best explanation as to how to understand dementia better, came from a talk I attended, given by Pat Pope from All About Dementia. In all the years I have been working in this sector, Pat is by far the most informatative, knowledgeable person on the subject of dementia I have ever met.

She describes dementia as an "umbrella term" and each form of it, Alzhiemer's, Lewy body's, Frontal Lobal comes under the umbrella. Each type presents itself differently and so it is essential to establish a diagnosis of more than "you have dementia" so you can learn how to communicate effectively with your loved ones, when words aren't enough.

Pat is the person responsible for making the last few months with my Nan, who had Alzheimers, so special. Unbeknown to Pat, she has also helped many of our clients and their families, through the information we have passed on. We tell each of them about Pat and her company and I hope that our paths will cross again soon, as she is also a delight to be around.

We see many families who are often dealing with big emotions such as guilt and sorrow, but what causes them just as much pain and anquish is the frustration at no longer being able to communicate with their relative. As you may have read previously, what worked really well for our family, was living in Nan's world whilst we were with her. Not getting upset when she mentioned other members of our family who we had loved and lost. It became quite cathartic in a way. Talking about people who we'd lost as though they were still around. It brought them back in a way, albeit for a short time. We'd sit talking about what they were doing as opposed to what they had done. It made all of us smile and it helped Nan communicate with us and smile back.

That is another thing Pat taught me - a smile is Universal and shows that you are non-threatening. I visit many care homes in my line of work and there is nothing more noticable than how contagious a smile is and how much better you feel after forcing yourself to smile. We have had a tough year as a family, losing not only Nan but a wonderful cousin and friend to cancer. During this time, it was hard to go into work and looking back, on some days I don't know how I did it. I do know that on some of the worst days, when I just wanted to hide away and sink into my own grief, I walked into a couple of care homes with a very heavy heart. Putting into practice what Pat had taught me, I put on my best smile and walked inside, thinking how on earth I was going to keep this up for more than a minute. Yet my smiles were immediately reciprocated and one lady even took my hands in hers and kissed them!! She then started clapping, her beautiful blue eyes never leaving mine! My heart wanted to burst with the affection this stranger, who could no longer speak, showed to me and this type of thing happened over a number of visits to similar homes. It seems that it is true. There are no words that can lessen your grief, but the affection shown to me by those without words, undoubtedly helped and I will be forever grateful.