On Monday I began to understand more about dementia. Churches of Christ Care invited me along to their launch of the Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT). It is a virtual reality tool for carers of people with dementia to gain a "window into their world". There are 44.7 million diagnosed with dementia worldwide with many believing the actual number to be more than double this amount. The creator of VDT, P.K. Beville, has been researching geriatric care for more than 20 years. P.K. was fascinating to listen to - her obvious knowledge about the ageing brain and her deep commitment to understanding the difficulties of living with dementia make her a lively speaker. Her talk included snippets from her mentor Michael who is moving into the middle stage of dementia. He is candid about the challenges of dementia and hopes that those around him will spend more time in forgiveness rather than being quick to judge his behaviour as obstructive or his cognitive responses as slow.
P.K. talked about how with the onset of dementia the Reticular Activating System in the brain becomes compromised. This means that sleep becomes unregulated, noise becomes problematic and depth of vision is limited. All of these add up to a brain that is confused about the surrounding world. Patient Centred Care seems to be the most effective model to provide quality care. Kate Swaffer is an Australian advocate whose writing gives brilliant insight into living with dementia. Kate has found ways to work around dementia so that she can continue to write and research. Her family uses a lot of humour, with her sons introducing her as a "dementer" (Harry Potter reference) to their friends.
Sitting next to me at the conference was Beverley Giles she has been championing the notion of Ageing Creatively since 1989 when she worked in a respite centre. Beverley introduced me to the work she has been doing to establish Dementia Friendly Towns. Ageing Creatively uses the arts to help connect people with moments of joy and with their memories. It is jaw dropping to think how casually society relegates our ageing population to the margins - especially when their behaviour is labelled as difficult or unacceptable. When actually their behaviour is just different, like a toddler's is different, we can choose to respond with humour and love or we could choose to respond with anger and harsh judgement.
To forgive is to no longer feel angry or wish to punish a mistake. Tools like VDT give us the opportunity to understand and when we understand others point of view it becomes easier to excuse their foibles.