Connecting to People with Dementia
I heard Robbie Savage on the radio recently — not in his usual role as football pundit or Strictly Come Dancing veteran, but on a personal basis telling the story of losing his Dad at the age of 64 to dementia and the affect on his family, particularly his Mum. It’s a sad but familiar story to those of us in regular contact with dementia sufferers. The point of his radio appearance was as part of a campaign calling for people to use sporting memories as a way for families and friends to connect with those living with dementia.
Research shows that participating in or supporting a sport can produce long-lasting memories, making it a powerful subject to draw on when talking to loved ones living with the condition. According to Robbie Savage even after his Dad became withdrawn in his illness, talking about sport and the games he had played for Wales would provoke a reaction and stimulate a response.
There is some “science” behind his suggestion of using sport. Different research has found that sport has a powerful emotional effect on us in Britain. Nearly a third of us claim that sport has formed our strongest memories and even more recorded that watching or playing sport has made us feel “ecstatically happy.” So, it sounds logical that tapping into and revisiting those long-term memories would be a good bridge to allow a loved one or carer to connect to someone suffering from a dementia condition.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be through the subject of sport. It is the connection that’s important. We once had a customer with a garden that can only be described as beautiful. Even though my own knowledge of horticulture is limited to spotting an oak tree and knowing the difference between a rose and a tulip, any discussion I had with her about, say, the snow in her garden or fruit on a tree could produce an animated response. It could even entice an often lengthy conversation from an otherwise somewhat remote individual. It was in those moments a window opened into what a delightful person she was.