At a recent conference, I was intrigued to hear about a form entitled This Is Me, which aims to ‘help health and social care professionals build a better understanding of who the person really is’, when a person is suffering from dementia and about to enter a new care home. I decided to download a copy from the Alzheimer’s Society’s website, and try responding to it myself:
It was very difficult to summarise my identity and life history in four lines or less and I am only 38. I can only imagine how much more challenging and upsetting this task becomes when you are over 70, 80 or 90 years old, and are perhaps struggling to recall some of the more significant moments or events. Personally, even for me, it was a strangely emotive experience to try and reduce myself to a sentence or two, or a list of points at best. I felt frustrated and humiliated that a single piece of paper should represent the complexity of any human being, and be handed over to care staff with the title of the form declaring ‘This Is Me’. This is not me – I am not a printed sheet of A4. I was also at a loss to know how I should respond (despite the lengthy Guidance Notes provided) to such open-ended statements like ‘I would like you to know…’ (4 lines) and worried about providing the ‘correct’ information under each section. The idea of completing this form, even with a trusted friend or family member to assist, must be very distressing for new residents on the move at a confusing and challenging stage of life.
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While visiting relatives in London, I took the opportunity to pop in to the Victoria and Albert Museum, to see this fascinating display about memory techniques.
‘In the age of the internet we rarely rely on the skill of remembering, but systems to assist memory were once essential. One of the oldest is the Memory Palace, which requires picturing a familiar building, then placing vivid images within it. When you imagine walking through the building, the images trigger the facts you want to recall. The technique comes from an ancient Greek story about a banqueting hall that collapsed, crushing the guests beyond recognition. The poet Simonides was able to identify each guest by mentally walking around the table and visualizing them.
Cicero and Quintilian described the Memory Palace in their treatises on rhetoric, which were influential in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. In the 19th century, when education involved rote-learning facts and figures, different memorising systems evolved and were promoted through lectures, manuals and children’s card games.
But Simonides’ simple and personal technique still appeals. For a mnemonic setting we might use, rather than a banqueting hall, our home, a place characterized by strong visual, sensual and emotional recollections. This display explores the art of remembering, as well as the idea of home as a Memory Palace.’
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The journey to Oxford, for the Creative Dementia Arts Network conference, started in an appropriately creative way. On board the 08.55 from Didcot, I discovered a Pass It On book, left for the ‘next person’ to find, read and give away. I had heard much about this delightful exchange, known as a Book Swap, but this was the first time I’d had the good fortune to stumble upon such serendipitous gift.
There was also a serendipity to be found in many of the stories, research and experiences of dementia that were recounted at the Creative Dementia Arts Network conference, throughout the day in Oxford. Continue reading →