Hamish Hayes, from Think Dementia Community Care, writes about his experiences of loneliness and dementia for Dementia Awareness Week.
Can you imagine a period in your life where you have conversed with an ex-government agent, a World War Two ordinance scientist, a nationally recognised pianist, an international award winning photographer or indeed a global policy changing politician?
If you can, then you are most likely a care giver.
Unfortunately, these people are often also the lonely ones. Those who have one or two hours of real tangible human contact a day from a professional care giver. Their present filled with echoes of the past.
In a society focused on its ability to communicate as fast and as clearly as possible (in 25 million pixels and 5.1 digital surround-sound) it is easy to wonder why are these people lonely. Perhaps it is because we are losing the art of communication, or of social fulfilment.
As the registered manager and a care giver for Think Dementia, I encounter the most interesting individuals every day. I now can’t imagine my life without them. They fill my days with laughter and tears: emotions everyone needs.
When I consider why loneliness has such a profound effect on individuals living with dementia, it is clear the stigma attached to dementia plays a big role. We are often not aware enough of dementia, and how it can influence our behaviour.
For example, a neighbour of one client was quick to become annoyed that she, despite being told on a daily basis to move her bin from the street, continues to put it out each morning. If he were only to ask why she does it, perhaps he would realise that this is the only human interaction she has. She has no family, no friends and doesn’t know how to ask for help or indeed what she needs help with.
Another client is doting parent, so proud of what their children have accomplished and eager to share their delight and tales of their children’s success with anyone who will listen. This parent also forgets where they have put the door keys and dismisses the fact, and forgets to eat or drink for days at a time.
They know something is wrong, and it sits heavy on their mind every minute of every day. But if we act to remove the stigma attached to dementia (and loneliness), we are able to move forward and do something to alleviate their loneliness. We in turn can enjoy every smile and the amazing stories they have to offer.
With the correct support, our service users enjoy daily life, they enjoy friendship and love. Some even enjoy running their own businesses. It can be done if we work to think differently about our approach to care, but also to the individual.
To find out more about Dementia Awareness Week, visit the Alzheimer’s Society Remember the Person webpage.