Living Well with Dementia Pt.2
The following article is Part 2 of our Living with Dementia series. Please click here to read Part 1!
When the NHS was formed in 1948 the average life expectancy in the UK was 66 years old. Today, that figure is 79.4, an improvement of over 13 years. While our longevity has increased as a result of better healthcare, diet and lifestyle, this has also led to a fourfold increase in the proportion of people dying from dementia and senility. Quite simply: living longer raises our chances of dying from age-associated diseases such as dementia.
As shared in part one of this series, The World Health Organization estimates that 152 million people will be diagnosed with dementia by 2050. With this sharp increase, there is a lot we need to prepare for so we can provide the best care for those with the disease. There are many examples of older people living well with dementia and normalizing its frequency through media is a great place to start. The UK’s Channel 4 TV programme Great Canal Journeys is a heart-warming example that follows Tim West and Prunella Scales as they journey though Britain’s water ways and abroad, all while overcoming their experience with dementia.
Media is a successful tool for helping people understand the experiences of others through visualization and storytelling. Media can be used to spark memories, shared experiences and contribute to a greater understanding of difficulties through relatability. By normalizing the presence of dementia in common media, we can grow familiar with the diagnosis and learn how it might affect us or our loved ones.
Coming to our Senses
For those that have already been diagnosed with dementia, there is nothing that beats the human touch for helping people live with the disease. Shared history, memories, familiar places, music and favourite meals can all contribute towards fuller lives for those with dementia. Both my father and grandmother lived with dementia, and had I better understood how important the temporal and sensory world becomes when cognitive function declines, I would have been able to support them to live better in later life. My colleagues Richard Mazuch and Lynn Lindley have been researching, designing and collaborating on making dementia friendly environments that help those with dementia live better. Here are some of their top sensory tips:
Sense of sight– perception of time and memory are affected by neurological changes. For this reason, it is important to see the seasonal changes that occur outdoors such as the cherry blossoms and the snow, and transition from day to night. Good connections to nature, windows, calendars and clocks are all practical aids.
Sense of hearing– hearing loss, and the isolation this can bring with it, is one of the biggest risk factors for dementia. Hearing deterioration also interferes with one’s ability to think. Good sound insulation and absorption prevents noises from competing with one another. This allows people to enjoy pleasant sounds which are proven to be analgesic and lower blood pressure and heart rate.
Sense of taste– our sense of taste diminishes with age and is affected by drugs, poor nutrition, tooth decay and disease. Taste sensations that are associated with nostalgic comfort foods or familiar celebration foods can trigger memories and help restore the pleasure associated with food.
Sense of touch– the warmth of the sun, the coolness of spring water. A varied choice of textures in clothes, household linens and furnishings can provide stimulus and soothing comfort.
Sense of smell– our memory of smell lingers longer than that of visual images or sounds. Floral and fruit fragrances have been proven to lower blood pressure, slow respiration, relax muscles and increase alertness.
These straightforward interventions are often as simple as they are effective. Hidden in plain sight is the fact that ‘coming to our senses’ is an extremely supportive approach for anyone living with dementia.
Wendy de Silva has over 25 years experience as a healthcare architect and has developed a particular expertise in designing mental health facilities and other buildings which support community well being. She enjoys developing, researching and sharing information on best practice in this field with others and has spoken on the subject at national and international conferences. Projects Wendy has worked on have been recognised with awards including the BBH Grand Prix, Best Mental Health Project, and the DIMHN project of the Year Award.