For people with dementia, loss of meaning and purpose is maybe even more important than loss of memory. That’s why we’re building a list of meaningful dementia activities to use at The Bine.
I’m sitting at my computer upstairs, concentrating, when Lena walks in. In her hand, there’s a dirty sock salvaged from the washing-basket in the kitchen downstairs. She stands in front of me, waiting for me to look up, not quite sure why she’s here. It’s the third time today she’s brought me something from the wash-basket.
If Lena was a child, I’d be getting mad by now, asking her why she kept taking things out of the basket, and to please take it back right now.
The problem is that Lena isn’t a child and she doesn’t know where ‘back’ is. Because Lena’s Alzheimers has advanced. And she doesn’t understand all this stuff about ‘keep doing something’ because in her world everything only happens once. Right now.
The one thing she does understand is tone of voice. If I show my annoyance – and I can’t help it … it’s natural, I often have – then she wanders away disappointed, or perhaps tells me she wants to go home now.
So I try, I really try, to be grateful.
– Is that a sock you brought me? I was wondering where it was. Where did you find it? Thank you.
And she beams at me. Because she knows she’s been helpful. Like she always has been. Life has meaning again.
The people we seek to serve through our new project, The Care Combine, are like Lena, living with dementia in their own homes. Most of them will have much better cognition than Lena, but even so, once they’ve been diagnosed, they quickly begin to realise that the world has no use for them any more. If they’re still working, as many are, and word gets out, responsibilities will be taken away from them – retirement won’t be far away. They’re told it’s too dangerous to drive now. Suddenly some of those simple everyday jobs at home don’t quite seem to make sense anymore – setting the table, making a coffee, doing the washing-up. Their partner steps in and takes over.
– Can I help you?
– No, don’t worry. I’ll do it. Why don’t you watch TV or something? I’ll be with you in a minute.
Sometimes they rage against their diminished role. Why can’t they choose their own clothes, make their own food, go out to the shops alone? Eventually they come to accept. But what they never forget, somewhere in that tangled mind, is that they used to be useful, and life had a point.
The Care Combine project aims to restore a sense of meaning and purpose to people living with dementia who have stayed in their own homes – around 500,000 of them in the UK. For around eight hours a day – working hours – they are at The Bine, where a team of care professionals and volunteers lead them in meaningful dementia activities.
Meaningful? How? Well, let’s take singing. Everyone agrees that singing is good for people with dementia, and you’ll often see people leading singing sessions in a care home. But at The Bine it’ll be different: people will usually be singing for a purpose. Everyone, including centre helpers, might be in a choir and rehearsing because they’re going to put on an event and invite their families along, or maybe perform at a nearby school. Or they might get involved in a community project – such as helping to clear litter from a local park. Or they might bake the cakes they serve at their own Bine cafe to members of the public who drop by for a chat, perhaps mums on the way back from the school run in the morning. Some Bine members will be able to contribute a lot, others much less – and only then with a lot of help – but the project will be theirs. People will say ‘Thank you’ and ‘You’re making a difference.’ Suddenly they’re helpful again.
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