“They have Dementia, so what’s the point in activities…surely they’ll just forget you’ve even been?”
This was a quote that I heard the other day. A quote that massively saddened me and also made me realise that it was not the first time that I’d heard this question before.
Unfortunately this is a common thought for most people. As you may have noticed, Dementia is everywhere in the media at the moment. A lot of people are talking about it and you’ll frequently see a social media post, TV report or interview about the disease. But how many people really know what it’s about? Maybe you know someone who has dementia, an acquaintance perhaps? Or you have a close family member living with Alzheimer’s? One of the most important messages out there, coined by the Alzheimer’s Society is: It is possible to live well with Dementia.
What does that mean? It means retaining your quality of life. Having dementia doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a completely different person that won’t want to do anything ever again except for sitting at home watching TV. It means that you’ll want to carry on living the life that you always have and always enjoyed as much as possible. Living well means spending quality time with family members, enjoying events and work.
But still, what’s the point of all of these things if that person will forget they’ve done it five minutes later?
Here’s why. The part of the brain that is typically affected by dementia (the hippocampus) causes the memory problems, which we all know about. There’s another part of the brain (the amydgala) which holds emotions and feelings. This part of the brain is much, much stronger than the hippocampus, and has the ability to ‘hold’ these emotions and feelings better than the memories of why that person feels the way they do.
For example, if you have an afternoon with your friend who has dementia, and you both end up having an argument or disagreement over something, like the latest football results. You will probably both feel annoyed and upset about it for a while. The person with dementia may not be able to remember why they feel annoyed or upset, causing further frustration and distress.
On the other hand, if you have a really lovely afternoon with your friend, you take a trip out to walk in the park and buy an ice cream and reminisce about all the times you have spent at that park, the chances are you will both go home feeling happy, content and valued. The person with dementia may not be able to remember why they feel happy, content or valued… you know where I’m going with this!
The point is, it’s really important to provide people with dementia lots of fun, happy and stimulating activities. This will help them to live well and will keep them feeling valued as your friend, family or community member. Yes, that person may forget that you were there, but the emotional memory and the love that the person has for you will still, and always will be there.