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The Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy
Seeing the Person Beyond the Dementia

Seeing the Person Beyond the Dementia

Papers presented at a Leveson Seminar
Published by the Leveson Centre for the Study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy, 2004.
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Review of Leveson Paper Number 8 by Daphne Wallace

This is a collection of three papers given at a seminar held at the Leveson Centre in March 2004. Reading the papers makes me immediately regret that I was unable to attend the seminar.

John Killick’s paper gives a helpful and succinct account of the background to thinking on the PERSON with dementia. He spells out the negative attitude embodied in much Western culture and then goes on to outline a more positive approach. He suggests that we tend to ignore the valuable contribution that the person with dementia may be able to make to our thinking, in particular the awareness of the importance of the present. In addition he highlights an intensity of spiritual awareness.

He goes on to give examples of poems dictated to him which movingly illustrate these points. He ends with quotations from people with dementia talking about their continuing personhood. Throughout he emphasises the importance of being open to communications from people with dementia and suggests that the arts provide an important vehicle for these.

The second paper from Gaynor Hammond describes her work with reminiscence and people with dementia. In particular she describes the work of the Faith in Elderly People (Leeds) Project and the Memory Box. An amusing early experience of her own gives a striking introduction and she then gives an account of the use of a Memory Box. She illustrates this with her own box of memory cues which give a broad spectrum of illustrations of the value of this type of communication.

Throughout her paper Gaynor Hammond’s sensitivity and intuitive ‘in-tune-ness’ are evident and the paper complements the first in illustrating another method of improving communication with those often deemed as incapable of meaningful interaction.

The third paper by Sally Knocker provides suggestions for facilitating communication through activities. She makes an important point early on. There is a danger of stereotyping activities with all elderly people, especially those with dementia. Many such people want individual human contact more than anything and Sally Knocker goes on to give moving examples to emphasise this point.

Traditional group activities may be easier to facilitate but, as she points out, most of us prefer to spend much of our time with a small group or one other person. Her illustrations make this point well and her suggestions are infinitely practicable.

All three contributors to this seminar emphasise the need of human beings for contact with others and a sense of being loved as a person in their own right. It is important to remember that in this respect those with dementia are no different from the rest of us and their papers serve to illustrate ways in which these needs can be met.

Daphne Wallace (Chair, CCOA Dementia Group) –
originally published in the CCOA Dementia Group Newsletter, October 2004

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