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Loving, the essence of being a butterfly in dementia care

In a recent visit to a care home, there was a sense of people feeling bored and waiting for something interesting to happen. There were a lot of men living there and there was some substantial building work going on in the home that week. Just outside the window there were workmen busy doing some welding, brickwork and electrical jobs. I suggested to a couple of the men that we go to the window and see what was happening. They became very engaged with watching the men at work and the sparks flying from the welding resulted in lots of smiles and a comment that it was a “bit late for fireworks!” I got chatting with the men about their own working lives and about the challenges of working outside in the Welsh weather. This is an example of the wonder of ‘Watching’ as an activity and is one of the twenty key essences explored in the new Dementia Care Matters book ‘Loving, the essence of being a butterfly in dementia care.’ How often do we miss these simple opportunities for watching during a busy day; for example seeing a sun setting, sheets and towels being folded by a laundry worker or a delivery van arriving with some ‘mystery’ boxes? These all also provide opportunities for a bit of ‘conversation, ‘sharing’ or even getting involved and being ‘useful’, which are other core essences explored in the book.

In the work Dementia Care Matters does in transforming cultures of care, we use the description of the ‘butterfly’ to describe the ability of a care worker to bring colour and variety to people’s lives in a care home and to ‘change the moment.’ We need both butterflies who are fun and playful and can ‘flit’ from person to person and those who have a more peaceful calming quality to sit and stay with individuals. The essence of ‘stillness’ is one that deserves particular attention when working with people in the later experiences of a dementia. It is so easy to give up too quickly when someone seems very withdrawn and sleepy. In the book I suggest putting aside a period of time, ten minutes for example, to sit and be with a person:

  • Pay attention to someone’s breathing – try matching with your own breaths

  • Look in the same direction the person is looking in – pay close attention to what they may be seeing – comment on what you see

  • Offer your hand – notice the way in which their hand responds to yours – does the person’s hand tighten, withdraw or just remain still?

  • Stay in silence for a while – this might enable the person to initiate some kind of connection even if it is to give eye contact, make a sound or move their hand or foot

  • Try reading or singing aloud from something that you think might be of interest to that person – a book about aeroplanes, a gardening magazine, a hymn or poem

  • Consider going outside as the air or sun on a person’s face and the sights and sounds of a garden can sometimes awaken a connection

The book offers very practical ideas for putting things into practice to help create a care home that is full of love and friendship, combined with some beautiful photographs from care homes in England, Wales and Ireland that are demonstrating this magic throughout all parts of the day.

Dementia Care Matters Consultant trainer


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