One of the hardest things any person or family faces when someone they love has dementia is that the person they love is physically there but the personality is gone. Many struggle with this. They believe “If only” the person tried hard enough or was reminded enough memories would return. It can become an agonising struggle for all. There is no chance of any outcome other than frustration on both sides and increased anxiety for all.
It is understandable that often people walk away or find contact very difficult.
One of the most positive aspects of drama therapy in these circumstances is that it offers a relaxed, fun way to reconnect. Often we base our knowledge of older people on who they are right now, forgetting that they have lived long, full lives. The recent upsurge in interest in genealogy shows that many of us are interested in the past yet how many of us really know our parents and older relations? We may think we do because they may well have repeated many stories but it is often amazing to find out just what they have achieved.
Last year the community based group we worked with had a huge and varied history. Fortunately the people working with the group knew them well and had recorded their individual histories.
It is these earlier memories that are clear and thus accessible. These are the memories that people share when we are developing stories with them. It is so much more powerful if we know what these memories relate to.
It is almost miraculous to watch someone engage who has been totally detached and uncommunicative. When we enter their world, even if it is one from many years ago, we are there with them. It is familiar to them so not a source of worry. It puts them in control at a time when the world may feel very confusing and scary. I loved the quiet man who got asked to do a song in one of the plays and produced not just a pop song but a stunning operatic aria. His family knew of this but felt it might be painful for him to remember as he now no longer sang. The smile on his face as we all applauded said this was an area to talk about with joy. Each person had huge talents and their own fascinating experiences.
An additional bonus is that when families get involved they can continue a relationship that is positive and not a burden. They sometimes learn new things about a person they thought held no surprises. They get to enjoy being with the person again. Being relaxed and happy is something we all benefit from.
Making it easier for them to stay at home for as long as possible can only be an advantage. A more positive relationship is good for the individual but think what it could do for loving but currently exhausted care-giving families.
This is one of the areas we are keen to do more research in. This method is non invasive, does no harm and is fun. And it improves daily life for all using it.
There is nothing to lose for any of us and everything to gain.
We hope to offer a programme for people and their families in the community soon so keep watching – get to know your family and have as much fun as you can.