In dementia, patients have lost their ability to learn new things. For example, they might not know the current day of the week, or even where they presently are.
The most common response we have to this would be to correct the patients' mistake. If they are at a park, but believe they are in the ocean, we'd say: "No, you're at a park." This often causes agitation, embarrassment and other negative emotions.
Penny thought of a different way to help:
In many ways Specal is an unlikely therapy. It’s creator may be extremely bright, charismatic and intuitive, but she is also a Cotswolds granny in her mid-sixties who has no medical or nursing qualifications, just the confidence to make up her own rules based on 30 years of working with people who have dementia.
And Specal can seem counterintuitive. Conventional logic may tell us to try to orientate a person who has dementia by reminding them that today is Monday and they have forgotten to do something. Much better not to challenge them, Penny suggests. Instead bypass what they can’t remember and tune in to their long-term memory, which is still functioning as brain scans have proved, and use that to make emotional connections that enable them to make sense of the present.
“They haven’t lost their ability to reason, they’ve lost the information that other people around them are using to reason with,” she says. “But they do have some substitute stuff in their memory. My mother could recall stacks of stuff and when she did that she was confident. She would make an intelligent match between what she saw and old facts. Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, she would think she was at an airport and ask if our flight had been called. If I said, ‘Not yet’, she was happy.
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