Whenever I asked any audience about what they think dementia is they often answer “It’s a memory problem!” And though, of course, people with dementia DO have problems with their memories, the research indicates that the memory issues are not the worst thing about dementia for many people.
The research shows that people are more concerned about agitation and anxiety, or the person with dementia becoming lost and not able to look after themselves. This can lead to unnecessary precautions being taken. People don’t want to be “kept safe for their own good”. Safety is very important, but so is liberty and the freedom to live well. It would be sad to be locked up in case you get lost.
It can be difficult to explain the memory problem that do occur. There are different sorts of memory problem. In one case, you forget things you used to know, and other cases, you find it hard to learn new things.
Someone might say, “I used to know my way around my home town but now I stand at the War Memorial trying to work out which way to go.” Or they might set off confidently from that famous landmark, but head to a house where they no longer live, having forgotten that they ever moved from there. Another problem is when the person has difficultly learning new things. They might be told “Turn left along here at the War Memorial.” That’s a simple instruction, but by the time they get to the landmark, they’ve forgotten. Or have they forgotten? It might be easier to say that they simply not learn the information when they were told. So it is a learning problem, rather than a remembering one. These things are discussed at greater length in Dementia The One Stop Guide.
Whatever you think about dementia, as family anniversaries and birthdays approach, you can still think about making new memories, or trying to. Take photos, and do all the things you used to do. Sing songs, tell stories, and make special meals and cakes. Even if the person with dementia can’t remember, right after, the sense of wellbeing they will get from doing familiar things will last throughout the season.