Margaret* always had her hobby. Each evening, she would go out dancing. She was approached by a young man whilst out one night who asked her to travel with him. Margaret agreed and soon after they enrolled in a dancing competition in which they landed in second place. At the end of the competition, one of the judges informed the pair that he had wanted them to win but the other judges had refused to judge the competition based on talent and instead based their decisions on money.
George hated school. Particularly, he hated maths class. His teacher was horrible; he would pick out students from the class and smack their knuckles with a ruler. Thankfully, however, the teacher received many complaints and he was successfully pushed from his position.
Kate* grew up in London where she met her husband. A few years fast forward and the couple were blessed with a baby daughter. Soon after, they tried for another child but unfortunately Kate had a miscarriage due to complications in her ability to have children. The young family moved to Washington D.C. and tried again for a child. Their son was born and Kate thanks having her child in America for being able to have another child.
Kevin* was walking home from school one afternoon to see a group of army officers shouting at the children; his friends. He took note of a different man standing nearby – a smartly dressed man from America. He was a civil officer and considerably kinder than the British army officer scolding the children. To this day, Kevin holds this man reason to why he wanted to join the military.
Last week, I had my first experience of spending the day in a care home for elderly men and women who suffer with dementia. It was fascinating, to say the least, and incredibly heartwarming to hear the tales of these people but somewhat heartbreaking to think that they could be forgotten, had we and like minded people not gone to visit them.
We spent the day singing and dancing with the elderly people of the home and just generally having an enjoyable time. Regardless, there were points in the day that were difficult for me and my peers as people who had had little experience with sufferers of dementia. Towards the end of our visit, a lady we will name Eloise for the purpose of this account had a short episode of dementia. Eloise was one of the most cheerful women we had the pleasure of meeting; her conversation was fluid and she was always laughing and smiling. I think that’s what made it so difficult to watch the few seconds within which she burst out crying because she didn’t know who we were or where she was and how she desperately wanted her mother. But, as soon as the episode had started, it had ceased.
What is dementia?
I spoke a lot on my old blog and mental health and it was kindly received each time. I’ve never once spoken about dementia. Dementia is described as a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes and can be caused by an array of different diseases. It is simply an umbrella term for the symptoms caused by such diseases, such as memory loss, confusion and personality change. As of 2013, there were an estimated 44.4 million people with dementia worldwide and this number is said to increase to an estimated 75.6 million in 2030, and 135.5 million in 2050.
A misconception about dementia is that it’s an inevitable part of getting older but, whilst it’s true that the majority of those with dementia are above the age of 65, the condition is not a normal part of getting older. Likewise, most people associate dementia with memory loss, but the condition affects people in a variety of ways including confusion and disorientation, difficulty community, delusion and hallucinations and even cravings for particular foods. Like most things, each experience with dementia is unique.
How can I help?
There is no cure or treatment to dementia, and maybe that’s the saddest part. Regardless, as difficult as it may be, engaging with people with dementia is incredibly important. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest visiting a care home for those with dementia. Often, the patients receive no visitors and the engagement they do receive can be beneficial and rewarding for both them and you.
Have you had any experiences with dementia? Please share them below.
*Names have been changed and stories subtly adapted.