The stigma around dementia remains massive. Dementia is one of the most feared condition by those in their 50s and 60s, perhaps partly because of what people associate with dementia. People assume that dementia results in a total loss of all cognitive capacity- it is not uncommon to hear a daughter, son or partner of a person who has just been diagnosed with dementia stating that the person will now no longer be able to manage any finances, shopping, household chores. They will not be able to have any responsibilities or make any further decisions about anything again. Occasionally I have also met people who have been excluded from their families and communities because of their diagnosis. Who have lost business’, their homes, their identity and the people they love. Generally, because the dementia has mistaken for something else. Just once I met someone who had been told she had been inhabited by “bad spirits” : the dementia.
I have recently had a number of conversations around the stigma associated with a dementia diagnosis. The difference is this time that I was talking about what we as health professionals could do to reduce this stigma.
One way of doing this is to co-produce work with people with dementia. To work together as a team. The steering group on my research project has been working with me throughout my project (3 and a half years nearly- to date). This steering group is made up of three couples- where one person has language led dementia (primary progressive aphasia- PPA), and their partners. The group provide advice and guidance on the development of my work. One aspect of this has included developing information (modules) that will alongside the intervention we are currently trialing. The group felt that we couldn’t put the intervention out, freely available, on the internet without providing some basic information on what PPA is, what conversation training is and what other resources and information there is on PPA.
We have most recently been working on the resources module. Included in this was going to be a list of communication tips and hints. Yet on discussion the group felt these tips were too narrow, too specific. They wanted to create a set of tips and hints to help people live well. To dispel some of the myth around what life is like following a diagnosis of PPA. We wrote a list of activities, and ideas on things to do (together) that are not dependent on language. Things that people in the group, their friends and family like to do. The list is long- from crafting to walking to attending concerts. And it is exciting. After we wrote the list (it took some time) the group felt electric. Everybody was excited by the list. We all felt that it was an incredibly positive thing to do. That we had created a really useful resource that will remind people of everything they CAN do.
I am now working with a colleague to create another small idea to reduce the stigma around dementia. We would like to create a video recording of an education session. The aim is to:
- Help people understand why dementia affects language and communication
- Show how people can have better conversations with people with dementia by using some simple communication strategies
- Reduce the stigma around dementia by highlighting that people with dementia lead rich and fulfilling lives, can make their own decisions and lead a good life.
We want to record it so that we can share it for free via any possible medium- the internet, word of mouth and so forth.
But what we would really like to know is would people be interested in this and what would they like us to do in such an event?
Do share your ideas and comments! They are always useful.