Sunday, 18 November 2012

Redefining Dementia - Let's All Go to Denmark



Very recently, I came across a UK award-winning initiative for people with Alzheimer's that I thought was, well, 'barmy'.  The social enterprise is called "Dementia Adventure" and aims to connect people living with dementia to nature and a sense of adventure.  I was dubious until I watched the video embedded in their website.  Looking at the name alone, I thought at first "Dementia Adventures" was an organization that extolled the 'adventure of living with dementia'.  Not so - it's a wonderful and inspiring concept.  I spread the word on my facebook page for caregivers and then kind of forgot about it - until today.

This morning sealed the deal for my new way of thinking about how those with Alzheimer's or dementia can live a good life.  My husband and I were sipping our morning coffee over the Sunday papers and listening to CBC radio.  "The Sunday Edition" is a documentary show that we like and this morning, I stopped reading to hear Karen Wells' in-depth investigation of how the citizenry of Denmark have experienced a tectonic shift in thinking about how people with dementia can live a rich and valued life.  The common thread in the documentary is laughter.  There are the sounds of activity and laughter punctuating the entire piece.



The Danish government set the stage for all this activity when they enacted a law stating that elderly people, including those with dementia should have the right to social contact and self-determination.  Ideas about how to accommodate those with memory deficits, while never sacrificing quality of life began to take shape.  The director of one day programme stated, "We don't have scheduled activities.  We just try to shape our day as we would for ourselves, on a good day, if we had the day off work."  Groups are no larger than eight (the size of a good dinner party).  There are no dishwashers because hand washing dishes and cutlery is good for small muscle memory.

People with dementia and early Alzheimer's go on holiday, with support of their paid coordinators as well as family members.  Karen Wells of the CBC, asked one woman where she had gone on holiday with her day programme friends.  She replied, "I can't remember, but I'm sure that I had a very nice time!"  More laughter.

Of course, the effects of progressive memory loss lead eventually to nursing homes and to death.  But in Denmark, the journey is much happier.  If it were me, it's a journey I would choose.  Now I see that that the folks behind Dementia Adventure and social care policy in Denmark are really on to something.  Treating people as 'people', adjusting for their abilities, is a good way to live a life - any life.

Listen to Karen Well's radio documentary "Redefining Dementia in Denmark" HERE


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