This afternoon I took a lady out for a drive. She can't remember my name but the way her face lights up when she sees me is the best thing ever. We drove to a local beauty spot with stunning views and had tea and biscuits in the car while listening to classical music on the radio and chatting. For some reason she started talking in a West Country accent, so I joined in. We were hooting with laughter at our joint daftness and got some very strange looks from more sedate people taking in the views. On the way back, she reached for my hand and said I love my time with you. You are so jolly and you make me come alive.
One of my ladies has a form of dementia, is fiercely independent and rarely leaves the house. We drove to the North Downs today, it's a big deal for her to go out as she cannot walk far. We've gradually got to know each other. She's in her 80s and has always lived on her own. She trusts me now...it's taken 7 months. I've had to be very patient.
We drove out and sat in the sun. She loved the views and enjoyed watching people with their children and dogs. We had lunch on our laps, which made a mess, and we chatted and laughed together. I was with her for 2 hours. She gave me a kiss when I left, very rare, she doesn't often touch people. She told me what a lovely, lovely time she'd had and that she couldn't remember when she had last been on a picnic. As I was leaving I heard her say to herself 'I will remember this day for a long time'.
What did I learn from these days? You can make a person with dementia happy when you know how... join them in their world for a while.
Two years ago, I started to document these touching times in a diary. The entries capture moments of happiness experienced by people living with dementia. It's 'living' that's the key word here. Life does not stop because of dementia.
You could say it's a diary penned with a sense of inevitability, that it includes moments and memories that may be lost to dementia. But that doesn't mean they're moments in time that don't deserve to be documented and I thought of no better time than during Dementia Awareness Week to share two of my favourite excerpts with a wider audience for the first time.
It's a condition set to impact on many more lives as the country faces an ageing population. There are 750,000 people living with dementia in the UK. By 2021 there will be over 940,000 people and this will soar to 1.7 million by 2050.
I'm a CAREGiver for three people living with dementia, two ladies and one gentleman. I'm often asked what skills you need to work around dementia every day. The right training clearly, as a CAREGiver with Home Instead Senior Care, I'm one of 2,400 employees who've undertaken their bespoke City and Guilds qualification in dementia care designed with national and international dementia and Alzheimer's experts.
Equally as important, it's about empathy and persevering to make an emotional connection. Dementia by definition brings challenging times. Some days the people I support are sad, some days angry, some days confused, some days frustrated, some days they feel disrespected, and other days, well people have just been plain rude to them because they just don't understand dementia. Once I took a man to task in a café who said too loudly that he was sick of hearing about a trip the gentleman I care for had taken in his youth - over and over again.
I look at it like this, one day it could be you living with dementia and how would you want someone to care for you? With patience, with understanding, with dignity, trust, independence and respect? All of these things no doubt. But what about being really listened to, what about interest in the years you've lived, the job you did and the places you've been to? What of knowing all the things you like, the things you loathe, and just those little things that make you smile.
I love my job. It's not always easy but it's the most valuable job in the world, I'm empowering people to do just what they want to or what they are able to do - to live with dementia not suffer from it.