How do you help someone who is slowly….very slowly….wandering into their own journey into dementia? They still see themselves as not being ‘one of those people’ who have it. They still see themselves as being who they once were, but sense that some things have been….off lately.
Things have been harder to remember.
Moods have been swinging.
Putting thoughts together and expressing them in the way they want to express them….is hard at best.
How do you help? How do you help a person who is starting to come to terms – starting to realize that dementia may be a part of their reality?
I found the information in this article to be of great use: Counselling People with Dementia. by Max Marnau. Key take aways for me from the article:
- People suffering from Dementia are still people. They still can and should be served – counselling is one way to serve them.
- Counselling helps people to uncover who they really are – to “Become the self one truly is.” Many equate dementia with ‘losing yourself’ or ‘losing a loved one’ even while they are still with us. Our sense of self can change – counseling may help protect that sense of self.
- Counselling someone dealing with dementia promotes rediscovery of self – who am I today? I may not remember who I was yesterday, or last year – but I am a person today. Who am I?
- What is identity? Is it all of our experiences? Is it who I am today? Is it who I am in this very instant? Maybe someone dealing with dementia is more of who I am in this instant?
People sometimes say that counselling cannot possibly help a person with dementia, as they “won’t remember what has happened from one session to the next”. Well, true, if you regard counselling as something basically cognitive, depending on building, by cognition and by memory, on previous sessions. But that is only one way of seeing it; to a person-centred counsellor, counselling is fundamentally, essentially, relational. It was Tom Kitwood, the first to make a serious study of counselling people with dementia, who put it best:
Although people who have dementia are greatly disadvantaged, there are some respects in which they may be more open than others to therapeutic change… There are several different theories about how therapeutic change occurs. One highly respected view attaches relatively little weight to cognition, and regards the whole process as fundamentally relational… During the course of therapy a special kind of relationship is formed, one which is far more tolerant, accepting and stable than is common in ordinary life; for some people it is the first time ever that they have been acknowledged truly as a person.
There is nothing more powerful than being acknowledged truly as a person. It is effective for all kinds of clients: it is no less effective for the person with dementia. – Marnau
Love that thought – in other words, treating a person dealing with dementia like a person and not a disease – listening to them, giving them your attention, showing love and compassion, building a relationship with them are effective ways to acknowledge that they still exist. They still are valuable. They still are lovable, and are worthy of love, worthy of having a relationship with = therapeutic.