Living Well with Dementia

Published: 6th June 2016

Nearly 50 people gathered at St Andrews Church Shifnal last month, for the start of Dementia Awareness Week 2016.Rachel Christophers, winner last Novembers Best Resident/Relative Contribution in the national Dementia Care Awards, spoke on Living well with dementia.

Thats one way of introducing Rachel the other way is to say that shes my mum.My dad, Theo Christophers, was diagnosed with dementia seven years ago and moved into residential care two years ago.Rachel has helped us, as a family, to move into the changing patterns, staying in step together: as a family, we talk about learning new dance steps together.

  • FACTS ABOUT DEMENTIA: One of the things we were clear about as a family was that we wanted to tap in to available information: asking questions and increasing understanding helps.One thing we learned early on was that the part of the brain that stores facts, for example names and dates, may not allow information to be stored anymore so putting the spotlight on incorrect facts wasnt going to lead us forwards.But the feelings are likely to endure that part of the brain is less susceptible to dementia.So it was more creative to be looser to the facts and to focus on this feelings.What causes anxiety?What promotes wellbeing and contentment?
  • GUIDELINES ON LIVING WELL WITH DEMENTIA:We were helped enormously by the three guidelines in Oliver James book, Contented Dementia:
  • oDont contradict.
  • oDont ask questions.
  • oLearn from the expert the person with dementia.

If you lose not only your keys but your wallet as well, you feel vulnerable.That feeling might help us to imagine what it feels like to be struggling with things that you could once do automatically, as dementia progresses.Your confidence can easily ebb away.And thats only accentuated if someone keeps telling you youre wrong, or firing questions at you that youre struggling to answer.You need reassurance and support.We will get much further if we tune in to the person with dementia, to their feelings.

  • FAMILY EXPERIENCE:Teamwork has been very important to us.First, weve been open within the family, sharing facts and feelings honestly.Over time, we needed to go further and involve friends and then carers.It makes such a difference to tell others about things that matter to Theo, to share photos from the past and the present - so that connections can be shared.
  • SIGNPOSTS OF FAITH:Rachel pointed to three strands of faith that can guide us forwards.
  • oLetting go: Patterns will change over time theres so much letting go, just as weve let go of the office suits that Theo used to wear in his working life.Its a path that Jesus has walked, letting go, emptying himself, taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2:6).In the words from Malcolm Guites Sonnet X, when Jesus is stripped of his garments,

Now is the time to loosen, cast away

The useless weight of everything but love.

  • Do not be afraid:These words appear repeatedly in the Bible.Its a natural human reaction to feel afraid when we are disorientated or overwhelmed.But we dont have to face things alone.Psalm 23 reassures us:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

  • Present moment:Nell, who works in the laundry at Theos residential home, sometimes takes time to play with a beachball with Theo.Theres a shared delight in the present moment.Psalm 118:24 reminds us, This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.How important to notice those treasured moments!
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