The arrival of Spring is a celebration of new life and it is also an opportunity for all Australians to grow in our personal understanding of the condition of dementia – the second highest cause of death amongst Australian men (1) and the leading cause of death of Australian women (2). This year the theme of Dementia Awareness Month is Small Actions. Big Difference.
One of the smallest actions we can all improve that WILL make a big difference to the people we love with dementia, is to slow down and LISTEN better.
I was talking to one of our clients this week, a very sweet lady called Rose (not her real name). We were taking Rose to the NSW Art Gallery followed by a “Ladies Lunch Out”. Despite her great difficulty finding her words and speaking (aphasia) when I asked Rose how she was, she told me how “excited” she was to be going out to the Art Gallery. “Excited” was Rose’s description.
We know Rose loves art. This time last year, Rose spoke fluently AFTER visiting the Archibald Exhibition and I wrote about how the NSW Art Gallery visit had produced an amazing improvement in her speech for a number of days.
“I was disappointed”
After telling me how excited she was, Rose told me how “disappointed” she had been recently when a relative had come to her home and “went out without” her. She explained that she had also “wanted to go out” but was told she “had to stay home”.
People with a dementia condition are so often underestimated in their ability to communicate and that frightens me when I see it so clearly because I realise how much they feel and miss out on. When it is hard for someone with dementia to find their words they are often ignored and excluded from a full life, yet Rose knew exactly what she was telling me and I understood her perfectly.
Slow down and listen with our ears and brain
It’s a small action to slow down and make a greater effort to listen to what someone with dementia is telling us…
To listen not only with our ears but also our eyes and our intelligence.
To value the person by listening.
To give the person time to find their words and time to express him or herself and to work out ways to help the person express themselves such as through the Voice My Choice™ Graphic Cuing System.
The Wrong Words Hurt
People with dementia who can express themselves very clearly are speaking up and advocating on behalf of their peers who cannot speak and they are telling us loud and clear that the words we use matter and can be hurtful, advocates with a dementia condition like South Australian of the Year 2017, Kate Swaffer. (Kate Swaffer was also chosen to be one of Australia’s AFR Top 100 Women of Influence 2018 for her global work advocating for the human rights of people diagnosed with dementia).
If we use the wrong words we can be unnecessarily hurtful, often without meaning to be.
Another small change that will make a big difference is to read this list that has been compiled by Dementia Australia about appropriate, inclusive and non-stigmatising words we can use. Scan over it quickly now because you and I don’t want to use inaccurate and unkind descriptions. Instead we want to use words that are empowering and positive.