Monday 18 August 2014

A precious gift

I've often thought about what the most precious gift is that you could give a person with dementia in the absence of a cure. I've written before about the importance of love, but I suspect that if I asked a cross-section of people what they think the most precious gift would be, money would be a popular answer.

Unlimited funds would give the person with dementia the chance to do all of the things that they’ve wanted to do, the ultimate bucket list. Of course money can buy you many things – amazing experiences, expert care, a lavish lifestyle and the best of everything – but wealth of that magnitude is the preserve of a select few. Most of us don’t have vast sums to gift to others or have an inexhaustible stash of cash put aside to spend on ourselves.

In my view, giving your time is a more precious gift than money and it’s inclusive; we can all give our time to a person with dementia and it doesn't cost anything. Most people hugely underestimate the difference that can be made by giving their time, not realizing that it is a gift that forms the cornerstone of quality of life – without it every other attempt to enable a person to live well with dementia is likely to fail.

Many people have reported that when they were diagnosed with a type of dementia they went through a period of mourning the fact that dementia, being a terminal disease, is likely to cut their life short. Losing years off of your life is cruel in a way that words cannot do justice to, but perhaps even more cruel is being denied the time of those around you - people who may well outlive you and yet are not willing to give you the time of day. 

A simple 'Hello my name is' as epitomized by the fantastic campaign created by Dr Kate Granger is too much for some people to manage, and yet how long does such an introduction honestly take? In our lives we've become too busy to stop and realize the gift of time, and in care settings, we’ve become too task orientated, wanting to get those boxes ticked as speedily as possible.

Your time is such a great gift to give a person you are caring for because it enables so many other amazing things to happen:

  • It makes choice REAL. Giving a person with dementia time to choose between different outfits, foods, drinks, personal care options or things to do gives them ownership over what their day will be like. Rushing them because you don’t have time to allow them to think or express their thoughts takes away that choice. Giving them time also allows you to make suggestions if they are struggling with choices and support them in making their choice.

  • It enables communication. As a person’s dementia advances, they will need more time to communicate with you and to understand what you are trying to communicate to them. Not giving them your time is going to stifle that communication and they will lose their communication skills much more rapidly.

  • It deals with challenges. Dementia is tough to live with – anyone with dementia will tell you that. Not having the time of the people who are supporting you makes it a great deal more challenging because your memory recall will be rushed, you will struggle to follow what is happening around you, and you may begin to feel that things are happening to you, not with you. All of that leads to the common elements of ‘behaviour that challenges’. Being given more time to communicate, understand and participate means that your needs are more likely to be met.

  • It supports emotions. Bottling up emotions can only lead to emotional outbursts that fuel ‘behaviour that challenges’. Giving someone your time to express their fears, anger, sadness, frustration and bewilderment isn’t easy, but by doing that you are likely to also bring about the expression of more positive emotions; happiness, contentment, peace, hope and possibly even some cheeky fun. 

As a general rule, everything that feeds into person-centred care results from giving someone your time. Everything that contributes to ‘behaviour that challenges’ generally results from not giving a person your time. That is why giving your time is such a precious gift, and why I will never regret giving the countless hours of my teen and twenty-something years to my dad. Even when that time was spent in silence, it was time well spent.
Giving someone with dementia your time is a gift that gives something back. You will learn from the conversation that will be created, the body language that will be demonstrated or the experience you will have in that moment with that person. The majority of what I’ve learnt about dementia has come from giving my dad, and other people living with dementia, my time. In return they've given me what I share with you on this blog. If nothing else, I hope that inspires you to give someone you know who is living with dementia some of your time.

Until my next blog post...
Beth x

You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886

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