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Dementia care: do feelings matter more than facts?

One of the key symptoms of dementia is its impact on an individual’s memory. The short-term memory becomes less and less effective whilst, at least for some time, the long-term memory works extremely well.

Alternate realities

For individuals living with advanced dementia, the long-term memory takes over for large portions of time. This means that, for instance, an individual may mistake their son for their father and start speaking to them as if they were that person. Up until fairly recently, many of those working in dementia care and elderly care will have advised relatives and carers to correct the individual; to inform them about the present-day reality.

However, this may not always be effective, particularly for an individual living with late-onset dementia. Their short-term memory may not be strong enough for them to retain the ‘facts’ and they are likely to make the same mistake again. Worse, they may well become distressed, embarrassed and upset as they are “told off”.

A new approach to dementia care

A number of organisations now promote methods of dementia care that place the importance of an individual’s feelings over the facts.

According to one such organisation, Dementia Care Matters, “We all live in the moment. For everyone with or without a dementia all we have is now. Showing people living with a dementia that we know their feelings matter most can transform lives. All of us live in our own reality. Joining someone in their reality, entering their bubble, is the only way to reach people.”

The SPECAL methodology

The leading feelings-focused methodology for dementia care is SPECAL (Specialised Early Care for Alzheimer’s).

SPECAL believes that individuals living with dementia frequently draw on old factual memories in order to make sense of the present. They need to do this to compensate for their lack of recent factual memories caused by short-term memory loss.

The organisation’s website states: “Forcing the person with dementia to abandon their own chosen strategy in favour of a reality they do not understand is, in our view, completely unacceptable.”

SPECAL promotes a range of techniques in order to help relatives and carers understand how an individual living with dementia processes memories and realities. The organisation also trains carers from good quality home care companies, to enable individuals who are living with dementia to experience the benefits of the SPECAL methodology directly.

According to SPECAL, their methodology enables people receiving dementia care to regain a sense of joy and dignity in their lives: two feelings that must, surely, be more important than facts.