Posted by Beth Britton at 01/08/2012 14:29:21
Sometimes we get so immersed in what adults can teach children, it is very easy to forget what young people can teach their elders. This is particularly true when it comes to learning about, approaching and caring for a loved one who has dementia.
Children, mostly through their ability to simplify things, are able to see beyond dementia to the person before them in a way that many adults cannot. Those who are older and wiser have a clearer idea about the severity of dementia, but also often allow themselves to be weighted down with fear and hopelessness. Children, however, invariably just live for the moment, bringing their smiles, exuberance and love to someone who they can relate to and look up to as a person rather than a disease.
They may question why a person with dementia does what they do or says the things they do, but they will generally embrace and work with it in a way that many adults are unable to relax enough to accomplish. Children understand the need for security and reassurance, and if they are shown that by their parents from a young age they are usually wonderful at exhibiting it back, not just to their mum and dad but to their extended family and friends.
Many parents can be very reluctant to allow their children to visit a relative or friend with dementia. This can be due to a stigmatised belief that dementia is in some way contagious or that the environment is not suitable or child friendly, fear that their offspring may say or do something they shouldn’t, or that they will ask too many questions or become bored. Yet when I have seen children around people with dementia they show compassion, empathy, resilience and also bring some much needed fun and laughter to those with dementia.
Watching children interacting with people living with dementia is more than just a revelation in seeing beyond the disease, however. It proves that young minds are open to embracing people who have dementia, and that is a resource that needs tapping into as we look to develop dementia friendly communities. Learning about dementia can be incorporated into many classroom activities if schools can be persuaded to make use of some of the brilliant resources available, most notably on NHS local. Facilitating this will ultimately ensure that the next generation do not live in fear of dementia in the way that many adults do now.
Not only should dementia not be hidden away from children, the way they approach people living with it should not be ignored either. Learning is a two way process in dementia: older relatives and friends who are living with dementia can bring out qualities of humanity in children that enrich everyone’s lives, and what children can show adults in return is the ultimate in person-centred care.
You can also read my previous post 'dementia is not a normal part of ageing'.