I was chatting with one of our care home friend volunteers a few weeks ago and he said something that really struck me: “I’m not afraid of dementia any more”. Given that dementia is the most feared illness in our society, this is no small thing.
Today I caught up with him to find out more. Stephen, 78, is a retired architect and started volunteering for Embracing Age as he wanted to contribute to his local community. He responded to a request for a volunteer to play chess, without realising that the resident actually needed to learn how to play, which Stephen felt ill equipped to do. Instead they now read poetry to each other and have built a mutual friendship. Stephen has also got to know some of the other residents - he estimates that about 75% of them have some degree of dementia.
I asked Stephen why he’s not afraid of dementia any more:
“I think we all have an in built fear of losing our minds. A relative has had dementia for the last 18 months and watching him crash has not been very nice, if I can put it that way. But there, at the care home, most of those with dementia still try to communicate, and if you make an effort you can talk to them, and you realise that dementia isn’t the end of life for them. I’m amazed how open people are, they plough on with their interests, like gardening, and if you get them on a subject they’re interested in, they really open up. One lady in her 90’s is a barrel of fun, we always joke and she has a really great attitude to her dementia. She says, “I love it here. I know I can’t remember what happened yesterday”. She’s not letting it get on top of her, which I think is wonderful.”